Self Care

Dealing with the Vicious Cycle of Negative Thoughts

May 21, 2021

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Mental health is at an all time low as a result of the global pandemic, and at a time like this it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself not just physically, but mentally as well. 

Negative thoughts will lead to a negative outlook on life, so not doing anything to get rid of them won’t improve the situation. In fact, it could very well make things worse. So, it’s essential that we learn to recognize negative thoughts and how harmful they can be, as well as learn what to do to solve the problem.

Negative spirals may seem impossible to avoid, especially right now, but there are possible solutions for even the most persistent of negative thoughts and spirals. The best thing to do, of course, is to seek help from a professional, but there are also lots of methods you can try yourself to see if they work for you, depending on the severity, cause, and type of negative thoughts you’re experiencing.

Negative Thought Patterns

There are many different types of negative thought patterns, of varying severity, but all can have an extreme negative impact on mental wellbeing.

One such negative thought pattern is thinking through extremes, as if everything is black and white— everything you do is either only good or only bad. Believing that you are perfect after one success is one thing, believing you are a complete and utter failure is another entirely, though both can be harmful.

Hand in hand with that, many people convince themselves that their missteps are far worse than they actually are, thereby overemphasizing their own imperfections in their mind. With this thought pattern, very small mistakes may transform into unforgivable errors.

Assuming that one mistake will undoubtedly lead to many more is also harmful, as is overthinking in general or constantly focusing on negative outcomes— or the possibility of them —rather than positive ones.

An image of a woman with short hair in a hoodie sitting on the floor and leaning against a bed. She has a hand pressed against the side of her face as if she is thinking, and looks upset.
Overthinking, or putting far too much time and energy into thinking about specific situations and their outcomes, can be harmful to one’s self esteem. Do something else that encourages positive thoughts rather than wasting all of your time and energy on these negative thoughts!

In addition to having overly negative perceptions about oneself, it’s also important to remember not to develop a bad pattern of thought surrounding the rest of the world or your responsibilities in it, such as always reasoning through emotion or prefacing tasks that you have to complete with “should.”

Both of these things, as well as allowing them to continue, may inadvertently lead to a lack of motivation.

There are many different types of negative thought patterns, some more dangerous than others, and they all start somewhere. Typically, that somewhere is an overly negative perception or unrealistic expectations of yourself, and it’s important to understand the source of these negative thoughts if you want to put a stop to them.

Loop Thinking

One specific type of negative thought pattern is loop thinking, or feeling trapped in the same harmful thoughts over and over again.

This can stem from a particular trigger that causes a series of negative thoughts, or an unresolved situation that you don’t have closure for and so are sent into the same spiral every time you are reminded of it.

You need to be able to let go or avoid what is causing you to think in loops, especially since loop thinking can lead to loop experiences, where you find actual, tangible problems in your life. 

Spiraling is another term for a time when negative thoughts overcome you, and it’s no coincidence that it and loop thinking call the same sorts of images to mind. Letting yourself slip into a vicious cycle of negative thinking is easy, but getting back out again can seem impossible.

An image of a circular, spiraling staircase with stone stairs and red metal railings that keeps going indefinitely and disappears into darkness.

An example of this is having the same issues with every boss or romantic partner, which would hint that there’s something you should look into rather than anything the other person necessarily needs to consider.

In order to help with loop thinking specifically, you may want to distract yourself with relaxing activities such as meditation or exercise, or spend more time with friends. In the long-term, though, it’s very important to consider the reasoning behind the presence of these negative thoughts.

You need to be aware of the problem in order to solve it, so take a moment to reflect on your thoughts.

There are four main things that you should consider— what exactly happened in the original experience that’s now bothering you, how you responded to it at the time, how it made you feel and how it’s making you feel now, and how you want to grow.

It can take a while to process complicated emotions and figure out the answers you need, but once you do, you’ll be able to begin on the road overcoming these looping thoughts and experiences surrounding an issue.

Solutions

Loop thinking is not the only problem you may be facing mentally that requires attention to resolve, however there are luckily many less-specific methods you can try to escape different negative thought patterns.

For example, you can disrupt the cycle of negative thoughts by doing something out of the ordinary or changing your surroundings. Get out of the house, treat yourself to something nice early in the day like breakfast with friends or a walk in the park, and you will find that it will be more difficult for the negative thoughts to reach you later.

This can also be helpful for avoiding triggers, which have a huge hand in causing cycles of negative thoughts. Remove yourself from anything that you know could make you spiral, whether that be objects, people, or situations. It’s important to know what can set you off so that you can stay away from it.

An image of a man staring unhappily at his phone. He has two fingers pressed to his temple and he is frowning.
People can have very specific as well as very general triggers, and while they may be easy to avoid in person, it’s easy to accidentally stumble across something that could trigger you and cause you to have negative thoughts. This is why the use of trigger warnings on the internet has become increasingly important.

Once you’ve successfully identified your triggers, in addition to avoiding them when possible, you should try to actively counter any negative thoughts that may arise from them with a positive one. This means that you must practice mindfulness, or seek to understand the way that your mind works.

If you think you don’t understand your thoughts well enough to resolve them, a great way to learn more about these negative cycles can be to write them out. It may seem counterproductive to physically write negative thoughts about yourself down, but it’s very cathartic and can help get the thoughts out of your head once they’re on paper.

And when you have the words to physically look at rather than just thinking them, it makes analysis possible, which will make finding a solution that works for you that much easier.

Reciting positive thoughts over and over again in your head may sound silly, but repeating positive affirmations enough times will help to convince your brain that they are the truth. If you feel a dangerous cycle begin to start, choose a phrase and use it to drown the negative thoughts out.

An image of chalk writing on asphalt, fallen leaves scattered around them. The message reads "You got this!" in all capital letters.
In addition to encouraging yourself, it’s important to offer positive reinforcement and compliments to the people you care about as well. Especially today it’s important to reach out to your loved ones and make sure they know that you support them.

Remind yourself that you are enough rather than letting negative thoughts take hold.

Likewise, when you have negative thoughts about yourself, don’t hesitate to question them. Ask yourself why you think that, and if it’s really true. Typically you’ll find that self-deprecation doesn’t stand up to a heavy line of questioning, because a lot of the negative things you may think about yourself are baseless and untrue.

Important to seek support from friends, and especially to see a professional to talk about what’s troubling you if you don’t see things getting better, but the road to better mental health starts and ends with your decisions.

You must work hard to stand up to any negative thoughts you may be dealing with, because no one else understands what’s going on inside your head. It sounds cliche, but the first step to achieving better mental health is to recognize that something is wrong or could be improved.

You need to make the decision to try to stop the cycle of these negative thoughts, whether that means taking action yourself or seeing someone who can help you.

The cycle of negative thoughts you find yourself trapped in may seem never ending, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and there are many ways that you can try to find it.

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