Many of us walk around with a pretty annoying mental mixtape in our heads. It tells us things like, “I suck at everything,” or “I’m not fit enough.”
While it’s OK to occasionally have negative thoughts or self-doubts, sometimes negative thoughts get too comfortable inside your head. One thought leads to another, and another, and before you know it you are caught up in a whirlwind of negativity, sleepless nights and stress.
You find yourself stuck in a pattern of negative thinking. However, there are ways to fix this broken record in your head. Here are 6 tips that have helped me – and still help me – to deal with negative thoughts and overthinking:
1. Out of your head and onto paper
My mind feels cluttered whenever the negative thoughts have taken over. Like an annoying tune stuck in your head, these thoughts just won’t go away. One of my favorite methods to free up space in my mind, is to purge all of my negative thoughts and worries onto a piece of paper.
Don’t hold yourself back or worry about how to phrase your thoughts. You are not writing the next best-selling novel. Once you are done, don’t go over them. Close your notebook or crumple up the piece of paper and throw it away.
2. Do something that makes you happy
Overthinking can make you feel trapped in your mind. I always feel like I’m stuck in cycles of repetitive thoughts that (surprise, surprise) don’t get any positive with each cycle. In such a moment it’s difficult to think yourself out of the worrying and negativity.
What helps me to snap out of the cycle of negative thinking is to do something completely different. Even better if it’s something that makes you feel good and gives you energy.
And no, doing something completely unrelated to the thought or situation is not a waste of time. You are actually doing yourself a huge favor. Doing something else distracts you from what is bothering you and again takes you out of your head.
So watch your favorite movie or Netflix show, go for a walk, organize all of your books alphabetically or do some simple exercises – anything that will engage your mind in a different way. Go to your happy place.
Of course your thoughts may still try to creep in, but keep your attention to whatever you’re doing. This helps you to stay in the moment. You’ll notice the negative thoughts will eventually die out.
3. Talk to a friend
Do thoughts like “I don’t want to bother anyone” and “I will tough it out” sound familiar to you? I must admit that these thoughts have kept me several times from opening up to people and asking them for help.
Even though I still struggle with opening up when I’m feeling down, I have learned that talking to a friend or a counselor really helps with breaking out of a negative thought loop.
A friend, a counselor or someone else you trust can help you see your thoughts or the situation in a new light and offer support that relieves your overthinking. Pick the person who won’t judge you, will let you vent and validate your feelings, but won’t feed your negative thinking.
4. Change the tone of your thoughts from negative to positive
Why is it so much easier to tell ourselves we are boring or not capable of doing something than saying we are fun and smart?
Now you can’t force yourself to only think positive thoughts from now on. Because every time a negative thought crosses your mind, you will get mad and disappointed, and that only leads to even more negative thoughts. Let’s face it, negative thoughts come and go. You can’t stop them.
What you can do is change the tone of the recurrent thoughts from negative to positive. I know, it’s easier said than done. When a negative thought pops into your head, give a positive spin to it.
That little tonal shift can make a huge difference to your thinking patterns and how you feel. You can even write them down when you can’t think positively in the moment.
Avoid over-the-top proclamations. Because really when you replace, for instance, “I’m an idiot!” with “I’m the best!”, while you feel like crap you don’t believe it, do you?
Keep your new, more positive thoughts consistent with what you think is possible or real. So instead of: “I’m never good enough.” Try: “I do the best I can. And I work on improving things.”
5. Writing down what you’re grateful for
It’s easy to look for the bad things that has happened to you, rather than focusing on the good things in your life. Another thing that has helped me is writing down things I’m grateful for.
However, I’m not gonna lie. I have a hard time with gratitude. It doesn’t come easily. Of course, I can rattle off a list of things and people I’m grateful for, but to come up with new things that you really feel grateful for is a tricky one.
That’s why you have to think small when you’re not feeling it or can’t think of anything. See if those small things give you a small bubble of joy or any other positive emotion. It can be as simple as a song you listened to.
Also don’t forget to remind yourself of your accomplishments. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are: from graduating university to cleaning out your closet. It’s about the feeling it gave you.
Each time you feel pleased by something you’ve done or said, jot it down. Go over the list every time you feel your critical voice coming up. It’s important to be your own cheerleader.
6. Be gentle with yourself
Now you might be rolling with your eyes after having read “be gentle with yourself.” But so many people beat themselves up for having negative thoughts. I know I am.
You try as hard as possible to stop thinking about them or to push them away. And when you don’t succeed, you end up saying things to yourself that you would never dare to say to your friends and loved ones. This leads to even more frustration, and negative thoughts and feelings.
Remember that no one is perfect, so cut yourself some slack. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself when you do think negatively. You’re only human.
I know it sounds cliche, but you need to be your own best friend. As they say there’s only one person you’re guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with… and that’s yourself. So be kind!
What do you do to stop negative thoughts?