3 Expert Hacks to Break The Cycle of Negative Thinking

And bring yourself back into the present moment.

By: Nicole Lippman-Barile Ph.D., N.T.P.

We all experience negative thoughts from time to time. During times of stress, especially, we can easily experience them more frequently. Negative thinking becomes more problematic when we get stuck in a cycle of experiencing them often, impairing our ability to function in our daily lives and interrupting our ability to effectively cope with the rest of our responsibilities. Here are some tips to help you break the cycle of negative thinking and thought patterns. 

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3 Hacks to Stop Negative Thinking 

#1 Practice Being Present

Being stuck in a cycle of negative thinking inherently means you are not being mindful or present to what is happening in the now. Our thoughts have the unique ability to drag us from the present moment into the past or the future. When this happens, we are likely experiencing catastrophic thinking (i.e. thinking the worst is going to happen), pulling us out of the moment and directing our thoughts away from being rational problem solvers. Focusing on these thoughts will only continue to lead us into further negative thoughts and feelings. One way to get yourself out is to practice being in the present moment. This can mean focusing on your breath or the sounds that are occurring in the room. 

Engaging your senses is an excellent way to get yourself back into the space in which you are in. Look for bright colors in the room and describe what it looks like. Identify two things you can hear or three things you can smell or touch. It snaps us out of our thinking patterns and immediately gets us connected with what is happening in this moment. 

#2 Move Your Body

Physical movement is another way to redirect your thoughts and change your experience of negative thoughts. Physical movement requires that you are being mindful and connected to the present moment or, to the physical task at hand, resulting in a break from any thoughts that are negative or stressful. 

The practice of being mindful and also engaging in regular exercise are both incredibly healthy tools when it comes to helping regulate our stress levels and our mood. In fact, thirty minutes of aerobic exercise is enough to help lower our levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and anxiety. Simply taking a walk or doing 10 minutes of quick bodyweight workout or yoga flow can help you break out of your negative thoughts. 

#3 Write Your Thoughts Down

Putting pen to paper with your thoughts can give you a broader perspective, in general, about the thoughts you are experiencing. It further allows you to look at them more rationally, helping you determine whether these negative thoughts are valid and/or need to be addressed. Many times, writing your thoughts down allows them to disappear completely as you remove the mental burden of them taking up space in your mind. Articulating your thoughts creates emotional distance, which helps you feel more calm and equipped about handling them. 

Try this next time you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern and observe how you feel after you write your thoughts down. 

A Note On Negative Body Image Thoughts

All of these techniques can also be applied if you experience negative thoughts related to your body image. I know how difficult it can be to have these kinds of thoughts and how hard they are to manage at times. Another strategy that you can start practicing if you experience negative body image thoughts is compassionate self talk. Practice talking to yourself and your body as if you were speaking to your best friend or a loved family member. You wouldn’t say that you hate your sister’s arms because they look a certain way, so why do this to yourself? 

You can start by focusing on a body part that you struggle to love and thank it for its functions and all that it does for you. For example, “thank you arms for helping me carry and loving my son,” or “thank you stomach for keeping me alive and healthy by helping me breathe.” 

Practicing this helps you to focus on appreciating your body for all that it does for you instead of only paying attention to its physical appearance.

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Final Thoughts

While we all experience negative thoughts from time to time, if you are experiencing negative thoughts frequently and are having trouble functioning, seeking a mental health practitioner is in your best interest. Psychologytoday.com is a great resource for finding a therapist in your immediate area.