Negative Thoughts: How to Stop Them

Social anxiety, melancholy, tension, and low self-esteem can all be exacerbated by negative thinking. Understanding how you think currently (and the difficulties that arise) is the key to changing your negative ideas. From there, you can apply tactics to change or reduce the impact of your negative thoughts.

Because our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all intertwined, how we think influences how we feel and act. Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, adds: “So, while we all have unhelpful ideas from time to time, it’s critical to know what to do with them so that they don’t take over our day.”

Therapy can help you change negative thinking, but you can also learn to modify your thought patterns on your own. This post will go through some of the ways you can transform your negative beliefs.

Practice Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Meditation is where mindfulness begins. It is the act of separating oneself from one’s ideas and emotions and observing them objectively. Mindfulness training can help you become more aware of your thoughts and develop more self-awareness.

The goal of mindfulness is to alter your connection with your thoughts.

Consider your thoughts and feelings as moving things that you can either stop and examine or let pass you by.

Recognize how your thoughts influence your emotions and behavior. Keep an eye on your thoughts. Consider whether or not this thought is beneficial. What is the thought’s purpose in your life? How do you feel when you think about it? — PH.D. RACHEL GOLDMAN

Allowing the thinking part of your brain to take control of your emotional reactions to situations is the goal of mindfulness.

It’s been theorized that the practice of mindfulness may facilitate the ability to use thoughts more adaptively.

One study found that people who engaged in a mindfulness practice experienced fewer negative thoughts after exposure to negative imagery, suggesting that mindfulness may lessen the impact of negative thinking.

Identify Your Negative Thoughts

As you observe your thoughts, work on identifying and labeling cognitive distortions and negativity.

For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in “black-and-white” thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include:

  • Making assumptions about what others are thinking or making negative assumptions about how events will unfold will be This distortion entails making assumptions about what others are thinking or making negative assumptions about how events will unfold.
  • Catastrophizing: This negative thought pattern is defined by expecting the worst-case scenario to occur without considering more likely and realistic alternatives.
  • Overgeneralization: This pattern is characterized by a proclivity to extrapolate what occurred in one event to all subsequent ones. Negative experiences may become unavoidable as a result, contributing to worry.
  • When people negatively label themselves, it has an impact on how they feel about themselves in many situations. Someone who considers themselves “poor at arithmetic,” for example, is likely to dislike activities that require that talent.
  • Thinking highlighted by “should” statements contributes to a pessimistic outlook by focusing solely on what you “ought” to be doing. Such remarks are frequently unrealistic, leading to feelings of loss and pessimism about one’s potential to succeed.
  • Emotional reasoning entails presuming the truth of something based on your emotional reaction to it. For example, if you’re frightened, emotional reasoning could cause you to believe that you’re in danger. This can amplify unpleasant emotions and heighten anxiety.
  • Personalization and Blame: This mental tendency entails taking things personally, even when they aren’t. It frequently leads to people blaming themselves for matters over which they have no control.

Unhelpful thinking patterns differ in subtle ways. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.

Goldman suggests that this step is all about identifying and labeling negative thoughts. “Now that you have observed the thought, you can identify it as an unhelpful thought (perhaps we’ve even identified it as an all-or-nothing thought, or another type of cognitive distortion). Just observe it and label it,” she suggests.

She also suggests pausing to accept the thought for what it is. Remind yourself that it’s just a thought and not a fact.


There are many different types of cognitive distortions that contribute to negative thinking. Learning more about these distortions and remembering that thoughts are not facts may help lessen the power of these negative thinking patterns.

Replace Negative Thoughts

Cognitive restructuring is one of the basic components of a treatment plan involving cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This process helps you identify and change negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses.

Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process whereby negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced.

Goldman suggests examining the evidence that either supports or contradicts the thought. Doing this can help you challenge negative thinking and explore alternatives that are more helpful and realistic.

Although it is difficult to think with this new style at first, over time and with practice, positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally. Cognitive restructuring can help you challenge your thoughts by taking you through steps including:

  • Asking yourself if the thought is realistic.
  • Think of what happened in the past in similar situations and evaluate if your thoughts are on course with what took place.
  • Actively challenge the thought and look for alternative explanations.
  • Think of what you’d gain versus what you’d lose by continuing to believe the thought.
  • Recognize if your thought is actually a result of a cognitive distortion, such as catastrophizing.
  • Consider what you’d tell a friend having the same thought.

To help counteract the negative thought patterns associated with depression, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends focusing on the good. Is there any good that can emerge from your current situation? 

Goldman, on the other hand, advises against replacing negative thoughts with unduly optimistic ones. They won’t help if the replacement thoughts aren’t practical.

You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by substituting an idea that may or may not be realistic. Asking yourself what you would say to a buddy in this scenario could be a useful method. — DR. RACHEL GOLDMAN

If you catch yourself thinking ideas like “I am a failure” or “I am going to fail,” Goldman advises not replacing them with “I know I am going to succeed.”

Instead, replace it with something more neutral that also demonstrates self-compassion, such as “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to complete it, but I’m doing my hardest,” she recommends.

A single cognitive restructuring exercise, according to one study, helped participants minimize negative thoughts and biases that contribute to worry.

Avoid Thought-Stopping

Thought-stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they be eliminated.

The problem with thought-stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts, the more they will surface. This is known as thought rebounding.

Mindfulness is preferable because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you.

Experts believe that the thought rebounding that takes place after trying to stop negative thoughts is much more damaging. Instead, psychologists generally recommend finding ways to deal with the negative thoughts more directly.

Thought stopping might seem to help in the short term, but over time, it leads to more anxiety.

Practice Coping With Criticism

Another part of CBT that is occasionally useful for people with social anxiety, in addition to cognitive restructuring, is something called “assertive defense of the self.”

Because it is conceivable that people will be critical and judgmental of you at times, it is crucial that you are able to cope with rejection and criticism.

This procedure is frequently carried out in therapy with a fictitious conversation between you and your therapist in order to improve your assertiveness and assertive reactions to criticism. Through homework assignments, these skills are subsequently translated to the actual world.

If you are confronted with criticism in real life, for example, having a set of aggressive responses prepared will assist you in dealing with these potentially anxiety-inducing circumstances. Furthermore, real-life encounters are welcomed as opportunities to put this exercise into reality using this manner.

Some research suggests that facing potential “social mishaps” that contribute to anxiety and negative thinking can also be helpful.

The goal of improving your ability to handle criticism and rejection is to help increase your tolerance of the distress these things may cause, which may combat your automatic negative thoughts.

Use a Thought Diary

Thought diaries, also known as thought recorders, can be used as part of any negative thinking transformation approach.

Thought journals can help you recognize negative thinking patterns and acquire a better understanding of how your ideas (rather than the surroundings you’re in) influence your emotional responses.

The usage of a thought diary will be part of most CBT treatment regimens as part of frequent homework assignments.

A thought diary post, for example, may break down a person’s thought process while on a date, as well as the emotional and physical reactions that follow from unfavorable thinking patterns.

You can replace irrational beliefs about rejection with more useful and constructive ways of thinking at the end of the thoughtful analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are negative thoughts?

Negative thoughts include negative beliefs you might have about yourself, situations, or others. They can affect your mood and can be present in certain mental health conditions. 

Examples are, “I’ll never be good enough,” “They must think I’m stupid for saying that,” and “That situation is destined to turn out badly.”

Why do I have negative thoughts?

Negative thoughts are quite common. You might have negative thoughts because you’re more influenced by negative than positive, or have a negativity bias. It’s also possible that evolutionarily speaking, negative thinking was more conducive to survival. 

Negative thoughts could occur as a result of cognitive distortions. They can be symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it’s impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share the thoughts you have with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialog.

Goldman likes to remind her clients that the process of changing negative thoughts isn’t a quick fix. “This isn’t easy and it takes time, but with practice, it gets easier and you can create new automatic thoughts that work for you,” she explains.


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