How to stop negative thoughts and not be trapped by them

Negative thoughts can really keep you trapped and rule your life, particularly when you're feeling low. But with certain techniques and practise you can start to turn this around.
How to stop negative thoughts

We all have them: negative thoughts that just seem to pop up uninvited. Nobody gets spared. But when you’re suffering from depression, it can be sooo incredibly difficult to stop these types of thoughts. It’s all you think, it’s all that’s in your head. Perhaps you’re not even aware that that’s the case. You’re literally stuck inside the negative thought spiral, and getting out can be so hard. 

Negative Nancy and depression go hand in hand. 

Why do negative thoughts rule the show?

Apparently, the average human has around 70,000 thoughts a day, and a huge percentage are negative. 

But why? 

Well, our brains are actually hardwired to spot and dwell on the negative. This can be pretty useful! Life-saving, in fact. Think about it: You’re probably going to fare better if you’re paying close attention to the hungry looking bear that’s slowly approaching you, than if you were to focus on how wonderful the weather was today. That’s a pretty easy-to-understand example, but the “negativity bias” goes much further than this:

We remember negative experiences in greater detail than positive experiences, and we also have stronger reactions to bad news than to good news. 

On top of that, we’re also brought up in a culture that really values critical thinking, and so we end up analysing everything and become very good at spotting all things negative.

The brain is like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.

Richard Hanson

But does that mean there’s nothing you can do, particularly when you’re depressed and it feels like literally every single thought of yours is a negative one?

No, not at all. 

The good news is, you can literally change your brain! With practise, you can learn how to stop negative thoughts while at the same time savouring any positive thoughts and emotions that you do experience.

How to counter negative thinking

As neuroscientists say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Remember neurons are your clever brain cells.) So what you focus on creates lasting impressions in your brain, and that in turn will effect what you focus on going forward. It sounds so simple but the effects are truly amazing, and I have seen this myself.

So based on that, here’s are some strategies on how to stop negative thoughts from ruling your life:

  • Leave negative thoughts alone & stop trying to change them
  • Watch your thoughts as if they're clouds passing by
  • Don't identify yourself with them: They are just thoughts, always coming & going
  • If it gets tough, remind yourself that this will pass, too
  • And if that doesn't work, distract yourself

Simple, but not easy. 

It takes practice and time to let go of habitual responses to our thoughts. So remember to go easy and to be gentle with yourself. 

By following this advice, you will gradually begin to notice that you no longer react to every negative thought that comes up in your mind. You will distance yourself from them to a certain degree, and most importantly, you will start to unhook yourself from the negative thought spiral that is so characteristic of depression.

Increase your positive thoughts

And as you’re giving your negative thinking less power, you’ll also want to increase your focus on positive thoughts. So lastly, I’d invite you to try this little exercise:

Think of something that went well in your life this past week. It can be anything.

Of course, when you’re feeling low this exact exercise can be difficult, but I am sure that you will find at least one thing that went well. Perhaps it was a film you managed to watch from the beginning until the end, some good news, a friendly smile from somebody. Perhaps the fact that you were able to have a good night’s sleep again, that you felt slightly better on Tuesday, or that somebody cooked you a meal so you didn’t have to. 

Choose something. 

Then, really think about what exactly it was that went well. Let that good feeling sink in. Really try to enjoy this feeling – and give yourself the permission to do so. 
And then, as you’re savouring this positive experience, ask yourself what you can take from it going forward. 

Depression is not only characterised by fewer positive emotions in general, but also by shorter positive reactions to when good things do happen. So try to really stretch out these positive thoughts and feelings, and remind yourself of things that went well. Bring them to your awareness as much as you can and really try to savour the experience. 

This 2 min video below illustrates so beautifully how with practise, we can choose which thoughts we want to follow and develop, and how our choices will then help shape our path through life. Very much worth a watch. 

As always, feel free to leave a comment behind and why not tell me about your own experience of overcoming negative thinking. And make sure to sign up to my newsletter below if you’d like weekly emails with blog updates from me!

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