I used to be a chronic overthinker.
It used to be that the slightest thing would set me off, from an unpleasant memory to an unchecked box on my to-do-list. From constructive criticsm to a potentially snide comment. All it would take is something mildly unpleasant for my mind to spiral down a rabbit hole of my worst flaws, my past mistakes, all the opportunities I’d missed and every embarrassing moment I’d ever had.
The worst thing about it was that it all seemed to happen subconsciously. By the time I became aware of just how unhealthy my thought patterns had become, I had full-blown depression and felt like my thoughts were completely out of my control.
Negative Thoughts and Depression
Learning how to stop negative thoughts isn’t about trying to push them away completely. Negative thoughts are actually completely normal even for those who don’t suffer from mood disorders. Ruminating is also extremely common in times of stress, fear and sadness. However, if you don’t learn how to deal with these negative thoughts in a healthy way, they are much more likely to cause, trigger and worsen depression.
Remember, depression doesn’t just ‘make you sad’, and it does a lot more than just shit on your day by telling you that you suck. For example:
- Depression drains your energy – making it pretty hard to push away those negative thoughts when all you want to do is lie in bed.
- Depression destabilises your emotions – basically turning your mind into a battlefield, which is like a comfortable living room for negative thoughts.
- Depression forces you into solitude – because if you’re always alone, you have plenty of extra time to over-think every mistake you’ve made since primary school.
It also destroys your confidence, motivation, self-compassion – we could go on for hours. Essentially, depression strips you of all the tools that you need to fight back against negative thoughts, making you much more vulnerable to believing them. The more you believe these thoughts, the more power they have over your mental health and happiness.
Negative Thoughts and Core Beliefs
If you want to learn how to stop negative thoughts from damaging your mental health, one of the first things you need to do is identify where these thoughts are coming from. Specifically, you want to identify and challenge your negative core beliefs.
Core beliefs are the things about the world that we believe to be absolute truth, often subconscious and existing underneath our ‘surface-level’ beliefs. In my post on how to stop caring what people think of you, I talked about how your negative self-perceptions are actually just negative affirmations that, through constant obsessive thinking, have become core beliefs.
This is also true of the negative thoughts we have when we suffer from depression. Believing that “things are never going to get better” is a core belief that we’ve subconsciously created through negative affirmations. Once your negative thoughts become core beliefs, they have even more power over you because you wholeheartedly believe them to be true.
The thing is though – they aren’t true at all.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”Anais Nin
As individuals, we see the world through our own unique filter, interpreting situations in ways that are completely crafted to our core beliefs. When we have depression, that filter tends to be overly critical, pessimistic and biased which causes your negative thoughts to come creeping in – but just like everyone else’s thoughts, they are still nothing but opinions based on subjective perceptions of reality.
Negative core beliefs are the driver of our harmful thoughts and enable our negative thought patterns to continue. By identifying and challenging them, we can begin to regain control over the emotional impact of negative thoughts.
Learn how to cope with negative thoughts in a healthy, productive way using these tried and tested tips!
Seek Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most commonly used talking therapies for tackling depression. It’s a very action-focused therapy that aims to overcome depression by breaking the vicious cycle of negative thoughts, hurtful emotions and damaging behaviour.
CBT is tailored specifically to your individual struggles and ‘trigger thoughts’ which is what I loved the most about it! When I was able to see how my negative thought patterns were influencing my emotions and behaviour, I found it a lot easier to break the cycle and take control.
If you’re able to access CBT, you definitely should! You can read more about what it is and how to access it here.
Practise Positive Affirmations
Probably my favourite way to tackle negative thoughts is with positive affirmations!
Positive affirmations can really help you to combat negative thoughts and adopt positive thinking patterns. Stand in front of the mirror and repeat some of these positive affirmations over and over again. My favourite ones for negative thoughts and depression are:
“I am not worried about things I can’t control”
“With every breath, I become calmer, stronger and more confident”
“I have the power to control my thoughts and emotions”
And no, it doesn’t matter if you feel as though you don’t believe them! Continuously repeating positive affirmations forces your brain to acknowledge them as weapons against your negative thoughts. In time, your brain will learn to subconsciously use a positive affirmation to combat a negative, giving you the power and clarity to stop your negative thoughts from spiraling out of control.
Remember, the point isn’t to stop negative thoughts from entering your brain completely – that’s impossible! It’s about being able to react to your negative thoughts in a healthy, positive way.
Realise That Your Thought Is Just A Thought
This isn’t meaning to say that your thoughts aren’t valid. Our thoughts have a huge influence on every aspect of our lives. However, 50,000 thoughts pass through our minds every single day and all of them are completely unique to our experience of reality. We tend to give our undivided attention to negative thoughts but they are no more fact or fiction than positive thoughts.
All thoughts are just thoughts. It’s the way that we respond to them that gives them power.
Learning to accept your negative thoughts as just thoughts is an excellent way to regain emotional control and break the habit of ruminating. It allows you to see your thoughts for what they are – making them a whole lot less scary!
Emotionally Let Go Of Negative Thoughts Using Mindfulness
‘Letting go’ of your negative thoughts is a truly life-changing approach used in yoga, mediation and mindfulness.
Thinking mindfully is all about accepting your negative thoughts. Rather than challenge them or try to push them away, you acknowledge the thought, make peace with its presence and then refocus your attention onto something else. It is a great way to stop your thoughts from spiraling out of control because it gradually teaches you how to become less frightened – and less susceptible – to those initial trigger thoughts.
Start A Journal
Journaling is an excellent form of writing therapy that has been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of depression. Often, putting our ruminating thoughts into words and writing them down provides us with the distance needed to observe our thoughts in a more objective, rational manner.
Use some of these mental health journal prompts to understand and challenge your negative thoughts. Remember, self-awareness is one of the biggest weapons against depression and negative thinking.
Be More Objective
We have a habit of using blanket statements when we think negatively about ourselves. We ‘always’ mess up and things are ‘never’ going to get better. These black and white statements are unfounded, biased and counterproductive, keeping you trapped in the cycle of negative thought-patterns. They make it so that your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy – if things are always like this, then why try to make them better, right?
Approach your negative thoughts from a healthier perspective by identifying and challenging those black-and-white statements.
Be More Self-Aware About Your Ruminating Habits
Learning how to stop negative thoughts from sending you on a downward rumination spiral is vital to your mental wellbeing. Stopping yourself from ruminating requires a lot of self-awareness, patience and self-compassion – but it really is possible!
Allowing yourself to go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts is a bad habit that people with depression are particularly susceptible too. Sometimes we even do it on purpose, thinking that the more we dwell on these negative thoughts, the more prepared we are for the worst. In a strange way, our negative thoughts can even be comforting – we’ve grown so used to them, they can feel like protection against the uncertainty of happiness and freedom.
In reality, excessive worrying and ruminating is ultimately pointless, especially when it’s about things you can’t control. Stop yourself from ruminating by being more self-aware about your habit. This can help you to prevent your mind from instinctively going into a negative thought loop as soon as the initial trigger thought enters your head.
Be More Self-Compassionate
This tip is often overlooked. However, we can learn how to stop negative thoughts from affecting us so badly simply by being a little kinder to ourselves.
“Why can’t I just get over it?” is a negative thought that many depression sufferers have. When we ‘fail’ at our attempts to push away negative thoughts or find ourselves ruminating, this often triggers a negative thought-loop that attempts to disregard your efforts and keep you from trying again.
Don’t give up! Depression is a serious illness that can severely affect your cognitive function. It takes perseverance, patience and lots of practise to adopt positive thinking patterns – most of the changes happen so gradually that they often just creep up on you! So stop being so hard on yourself!
Sometimes, All You Can Do Is Distract Yourself
It’s important to acknowledge and accept our negative thoughts, but learning how to distract yourself is also a handy tool for when you just want to get on with it.
Distract yourself by doing something you love. Try one of these 8 hobbies that are great for depression or even one of these 70 activities for bad mental health days. An activity that keeps your hands busy is great – and bonus points if it’s something productive!
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. If you feel as though your negative thoughts are particularly concerning, please always seek professional help. You can read my full disclaimer and check out some handy mental health resources here.