How To Stop Negative Thoughts 2023: Choosing A Healthier Way of Thinking

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Reviewed by Sutton, D., MD
how to stop negative thoughts

Statistics[1] show that at least one out of five people in America suffer from a mental health disorder. Mental health does not refer to mental illnesses only; the overall well-being of an individual is affected by each facet of life, therefore affecting how we live and relate with others. Mental health awareness is among the most underrated topics since most people reckon that they have no mental health conditions and are okay. Mental health awareness includes teaching people how to improve mental fitness, causes of poor mental state, overcoming mental conditions, stigma, and many more.  One of the causes of mental unfitness includes negative thoughts.

Everyone has experienced spiraling negative thoughts at one point in life. For most people, negative thoughts are automatic thoughts. This is normal and acceptable since life is not all sunshine and rainbows, and it is okay to acknowledge your feelings rather than suppress them. However, there are borderline negative thoughts; it can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, bad moods, poor relationships with loved ones, and, worst of all, self-harm. This article will focus on negative thoughts, including what might cause a negative thought, remedies for stopping these automatic thoughts, effects of negative thoughts, and many more.

What Counts as Negative Thinking?

A negative thought is a thinking pattern about you and your environment. While these feelings are accepted as automatic thoughts, they can significantly affect our day-to-today lives and cause mental health disorders. Negative thoughts can make you feel anxious, stressed, depressed, have poor focus levels, and so much more. For some, a negative thought can be a reflex reaction when someone is mean or rude to them. Taking things personally and viewing insignificant things as prominent, then overthinking about them angrily or spitefully.

how to stop negative thoughts

While some might think these feelings do not matter since they are “just thoughts,” they might be met by a rude awakening. Negative thought patterns might form slowly as you consistently keep imagining the worst-case scenario in every situation in your life. For example, imagine if someone gave you an unsolicited negative comment about your weight, mocked you, and probably called you ugly. This might make you hate yourself, lose self-esteem, and focus poorly on important matters in your life, hence negative self-criticism. While mean people are just sad people projecting their insecurities onto others, this might not feel true at the moment of the event.

If you are prone to negative thoughts, you might have met people who tell you to stop thinking negatively and try a more positive way. Sounds absurd, right? I mean, changing negative thought into positive thinking is not a quick fix; it requires mastery. The anxiety, depression, and stress that come with negative thoughts are not something that only one positive thought can rectify overnight, and it is a process that requires patience. However, be aware that negative thoughts do not only affect mental stability; these unhelpful thoughts can deteriorate your physical health. Let us see what factors might trigger a negative thought, shall we?

 What Are the Causes of Negative Thinking?

What could trigger negative thoughts? Negative thoughts might include shame, fear, anger, and other unpleasant feelings. These are all normal emotions since they emerge and fade away with time. However, a negative thought might be stuck in your mind, giving you extreme anxiety, and depression, making you feel stupid, and causing constant worry. Negative thoughts are not helpful since they deteriorate mental focus and deteriorate our physical health. While this might seem obvious, people struggle with negative thoughts daily and constantly worry since these feelings are out of their control.

Negative bias

As human beings, negative thinking stems from our evolution[2], and it is for survival, progress, and growth. It is normal to have negative thoughts derived from things that do not make you happy, encouraging you to take charge[3] and make the necessary changes. However, the problem is when you get stuck and have unhelpful negative thinking patterns.

Emotional intelligence

This is not a well-taught topic in childhood development years. Emotional reasoning and emotional intelligence can be enhanced with self-regulation strategies, emotional expression, and effective communication skills. These are not things children can effectively learn by themselves. Without emotional reasoning, anxiety, stress, and depression are among the many mental health conditions one might easily develop. Poor emotional intelligence might result in negative self-criticism, worrying about past mistakes, low self-esteem, a “black and white” type of reasoning, and worrying about the future while thinking about every worst-case scenario.

Indecisiveness & overthinking

When making life-changing decisions, it is crucial to be keen while weighing your options. However, analyzing the options can result in an unhealthy obsession. To avoid this, you can try giving yourself a fixed deadline. Give yourself enough time to reflect and research; however, make a decision and stick with it.

Obsessing over past mistakes

Negative experiences in the past can affect our present lives in one way or another. It is okay to think about the past; however, the borderline is when these negative thoughts become a pattern. For example, if you used to lead a life of crime in the past but paid for your mistakes and turned over a new leaf, dwelling on this can result in negative thoughts. To stop this, take up new health challenges, or projects; they can help you focus more on the present.

Outward-directed anger

If someone has mistreated you, you are more likely to have negative thoughts about them. These thoughts might make you withdraw or lash out at other people. There is credible evidence[4] in psychology that describes this and psychological projection. It is a defense mechanism that helps people cope with negative emotions.

Fear of the future

The turtle from Kung fu Panda once said, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift…that is why we call it the present”. This could not have been said any clearer or wiser. Anxiety can be caused by focusing too much on the future, especially when thinking of the worst. This is unhelpful since we cannot control the future, but we can prepare for it. Wasting your emotional energy on something beyond your control can make you miss the present. Live one day at a time.

Negative criticism

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”  We mostly say some of the worst and mean things about us. Most of us hold ourselves to high standards and beat ourselves up if we do not meet the set perfection standards. For example, you might feel less productive one day after constantly working hard. This might result in negative thoughts about yourself since you feel lazy. “You are lazy! You are not talented! You are not smart!” this could be the harsh words directed at yourself since you are equating your self-worth with productivity. This might signify that your body just needs some rest since you have been working hard. Accept your weaknesses and strengths, and remember to be kind to yourself.

Jumping to conclusion

If overthinking was an extreme sport, some of us would have more medals than we could keep count of. Negative thoughts can be a result of jumping to conclusions. Cognitive distortions make us miserable and give us anxiety, panic attacks, and other negative emotions. If you are the type of person who would win a gold medal for overthinking, you suffer from cognitive distortion. While this might be an automatic response for you, this does not mean you have no control. Overthinkers love immediate answers if they are unsure about something; therefore, always ask if you are uncertain about something.

Blaming yourself

Accountability is important; however, taking the blame for situations out of control can cause negative thoughts. Imagine if your family called you to inform you that one of your loved ones had passed on, but since you were asleep, you missed the call. You might start blaming yourself when you wake up in the morning and find texts and a million calls regarding the matter. This is unhealthy since the event had already occurred; therefore, picking up the phone would not have reversed that. You cannot manage the weight of the entire world on your shoulders, be gentle with yourself.

Harm of Negative Thinking

The term emotion is derived from “emotere,” a Latin word that means “energy in motion.” Negative and positive thinking affects our minds and bodies. Therefore negative thoughts can be translated to negative energy in motion. Negativity can affect our mental and physical health since this energy stimulates the body to respond to “flight or fight.” The body is designed to handle stressful events by producing the stress hormone cortisol, making you more focused.  Stress levels are essential; however, too much can affect our health. Long periods of negative thoughts can result in poor immune systems and digestive health. They can also cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Drastic metabolism changes
  • Stomach upset
  • Chest pain
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping disorders

Chronic negative thoughts affect our physical and mental health. People with negative thoughts might turn to drugs and substance abuse as coping mechanisms. Positive thinking can help the mind and body to work harmoniously and even rigger the brain to the production of chemicals that help in:

  • Make you optimistic
  • Boost your immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower stress levels
  • Alleviate heart disease risk

How to Stop Negative Thinking Once and For All

Negative self-talk can be countered by turning negative thoughts into more positive ones. While no abracadabra can immediately make the mind stop having negative self-talk, there are ways to achieve these milestones.  A negative thought pattern requires mastery of a variety of skills to reverse into positive thinking. The mind is a powerful dynamic, it can bring both liberation and captivity, and the following tips can help you in taking control, being the captain of this ship.

Avoid the “Why” questions and embrace the “How” Questions

Negative thinking is mostly characterized by wondering why certain things happen to you. You might keep asking what is wrong with you or why things never work out for you. Positive thinking is when you use solution-based[5] questions. These questions can include the following:

  • What is within my control?
  • What is reality versus my view?
  • What can I do to achieve the results I need?
  • What am I doing that causes bad results?
  • How can I communicate my feelings better?
  • How can I make sure this does not happen again?

Positive thinking can prevent spiraling negative thoughts. When you constantly ask yourself “why,” this might be helpful; however, it might cause rumination, victim mentality, and self-pity. Challenge yourself with solution-oriented questions.

Focus on the present and future, not the past

Constantly reminiscing might cause negative thinking. If you constantly focus on the past, try living in the moment by asking yourself; “what worked before that I can use now? What is working for me at the moment? Can I view my past issues as history and not who I am in the present?” you can then shift to the future from the present with more positive and future-based questions such as: ” what would my life become if I stopped unhealthy patterns? How would I begin taking the first step to stopping unhealthy patterns? What can encourage me to take the first step?”

Thinking about the future allows you to imagine what you would wish to happen rather than what has; already occurred. This helps you to stop thinking negatively and open your mind to an infinite world of possibilities. Visualizing[6] the future can reduce negative thinking. You can begin by visualizing yourself, taking all the steps on your path to attaining your goals, and seeing the final results.

Changing the channel

When you become aware of negative thoughts, you can take the proper actions and thoughts that are within your control. This can help the mind generate more positive thinking. An excellent example is changing your environment. Taking nature walks[7] reduces spiraling and helps you become more evaluative. Suppose you feel depressed or anxious when in one place; you can try other places such as parks, cafes, or coworking spaces. If you experience poor sleep quality[8] due to negative thoughts, you can go for a walk or shift to a different area in the house for a moment. After half an hour in the new environment, you can try returning to bed.

Using the body to release tension

You can do intense workouts or yoga to release stress from the body.

Focusing on external rather than internal situations

You can trigger positive thinking by focusing on what is happening around you rather than within you. Use your senses, including sounds, smells, and sight, to divert your attention.

Distracting yourself

This can be through reading, watching television, listening to music, and so on. Laughing and smiling help the body release happy hormones[9].

Others

  • Spend time with family and loved ones[10]
  • Accepting reality
  • Positive self-talk through forgiveness, gratitude, mindfulness, release, and compassion
  • Challenge yourself
  • Going to therapy

Conclusion

Negative thoughts have a role to play in everyone’s life; they alert us on what is working or not working in our lives. Accepting these feelings after comprehending and learning how to express them can help you change them into positive thinking. Having brain control skills takes time; however, it is not impossible. Apart from the tips above, you can try therapy; seeing a mental health professional can help you achieve more positive thinking and better understand your mind.  In therapy, you can express yourself to an expert without fear, shame, or judgment. Your mind can imprison or liberate you, be gentle with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mental awareness day?

Monday, 10th October.

Can children see a psychiatrist?

Yes, anxiety, depression, and stress have no age limit.

How can I stop thinking negatively?

You can try journaling, meditation, therapy, exercise, distracting yourself, and many more.

What muscles should I target for bigger hips?

The gluteus muscles should be targeted if you want to get wider hips.

Can negative thoughts affect my physical body?

Yes. Negativity can affect our mental and physical health since this type of energy stimulates the body to respond to “flight or fight.”

How do I know if  I am experiencing negative thoughts?

If the thoughts in your mind make you feel regret, shame, fear, embarrassment, and other negative feelings.

How can I help someone going through mental-related problems?

This might depend on your relationship with the said person. However, you can begin by gently encouraging them to seek help.

What can cause negative thoughts?

Social, psychological, and biological issues.

What should I do if the remedy is not working to stop negative thoughts?

Always keep a variety of options to deal with this problem. Take your time to find the effective one, and be patient and hopeful.

+ 10 sources

MIDSS has strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes and medical associations. We work primarily with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accuracy. We avoid using tertiary references. For more information on how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content, please see our editorial policy.

  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2020). Mental Illness. [online] Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in,(51.5%20million%20in%202019). [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  2. Rozin, P. (2016). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion – Paul Rozin, Edward B. Royzman, 2001. [online] Personality and Social Psychology Review. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327957pspr0504_2 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  3. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping. (2022). The case for positive emotions in the stress process. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10615800701740457 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  4. Lewis, (2016). Empirical Studies of Projection: A Critical Review – J. Rees Lewis, B. C. Bates, S. Lawrence, 1994. [online] Human Relations. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001872679404701101 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  5. The differential effects of solution‐focused and problem‐focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice | Emerald Insight. (2013). Industrial and Commercial Training, [online] 42(2), pp.102–111. doi:10.1108\/ict.
  6. Oddli, H.W., McLeod, J., Nissen‐Lie, H.A., Rønnestad, M.H. and Halvorsen, M.S. (2021). Future orientation in successful therapies: Expanding the concept of goal in the working alliance. Journal of Clinical Psychology, [online] 77(6), pp.1307–1329. doi:10.1002/jclp.23108.
  7. Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askren, M.K., Burson, A., Deldin, P.J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I.H. and Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, [online] 140(3), pp.300–305. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012.
  8. Hopkinsmedicine.org. (2021). Up in the Middle of the Night? How to Get Back to Sleep. [online] Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-how-to-get-back-to-sleep [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  9. ACM Conferences. (2022). Smiling makes us happier | Proceedings of the 13th international conference on Ubiquitous computing. [online] Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/2030112.2030114 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].
  10. Social Neuroscience. (2017). Social stress buffering by friends in childhood and adolescence: Effects on HPA and oxytocin activity. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17470919.2016.1149095 [Accessed 27 Oct. 2022].

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Clarke, M., MBAHM
MBA in Healthcare Management
She is a professional blog post, article, researcher, and health writer. She has mastered the art of content writing by practicing for years and constantly learning. She is always ready and well equipped to write. It is always a pleasure to bring her skills to use and play her part in helping others achieve their objectives. She has 6 years of experience conducting research in Fitness and health care. She is MBA qualified and has written health content for 8+ years.

ABOUT MEDICAL REVIEWER

Sutton, D., MD
Medical Writer & Editor
Drew is a retired ENT doctor who now lives in the Southeastern US. He was a member of the American Academy of Otolaryngology and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology and an MD degree. He completed his internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and practiced for almost 30 years in all aspects of ENT, including a specialization in disorders of the ear and skull base. Drew is passionate about communicating his clinical experiences and making his knowledge more accessible to the general public by medical writing.