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How to Manage Negative Thoughts

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Do you have that pesky voice in your head that likes to tell you you can’t do something? Or maybe you think your friends have been whispering things behind your back. Having negative thoughts creeping into your mind every once and a while is normal but can put a damper on your day. Here are some tips for managing those unhelpful thoughts we have. These tips are easier said than done but with enough practice should become second nature. 

1) Challenge these thoughts

Our minds like to play tricks on us and will often depict something as being far worse than it really is. Assess the negative thought and ask yourself if it’s really as bad as it’s made out to be in your head. Do you have any solid evidence that this thought is true? In most cases you won’t and this will really help rein in the negative thinking. Re-evaluate the unhelpful thought that is being presented objectively as possible, the more you challenge these the more automatic it will get. The goal is that you eventually won't even realise you’re subconsciously  shutting down these negative thoughts. 

2) Types of negative thoughts 

Some negative thoughts might be to do with social interactions, others might be fuelled by inner self doubt. Noticing what specifically you’re having bad feelings towards can help you craft a plan of action.

Often, negative thoughts are fuelled by how we think others may perceive us. If you suffer from social anxiety these thoughts will be particularly strong.  Thoughts such as ‘people won’t like me if I do this’ or ‘I don’t think __ likes me very much’, ‘others think Im stupid’ etc. Majority of the time these thoughts don't have any evidence to support them. The truth is people are wrapped up in their own worlds that these thoughts haven’t even crossed their minds. Free yourself of worrying what people think by reversing the scenario. Do you think these thoughts about your friends or peers? Most likely not, so the chances they are thinking this about you is very low. 

3) Keep a thought record 

Sometimes challenging our negative thoughts in our heads won’t be enough to make them go away entirely. Keeping a thought journal is a popular tool in Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Writing the unhelpful thought down, including the time, what you were doing and note the feeling that changed. You may start to see patterns of when/where/who with these thoughts occur. This can be useful as you may want to limit your time in spaces where these negative thoughts keep happening. 

With the contents of your mind now clearly written down, you can examine in a more objective manner. Write down what evidence you have for or against this negative thought. You’ll hopefully be able to see that it wasn’t as bad as it first presented itself. Writing it down is also useful because it validates your feelings and emotions. Read more about journaling for mental health.

4) Use self-affirmations 

To give negative thoughts less space in your mind try using affirmations regularly. An affirmation refers to positive self talk. An affirmation could be a phrase such as ‘I'm really proud I achieved_ today’ or ‘My life is in a really good place right now’ -  anything positive that refers to you. The idea is that when used regularly enough these will become subconscious and your mind will be filled with more positive thoughts. 

5) Create new habits 

Another tactic is to stop giving unhelpful thoughts the attention. Try to avoid giving the negative thoughts the time they deserve and instead create new habits. Habits that could help with your overall mindset might include: those mentioned above like self affirmations, meditation and increasing time in spaces/activities where positive thoughts are prominent. You may want to assess other areas of your life too like getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising. As a lack of any of these may add to the negative thoughts you’re experiencing. 

6) Talk to a therapist

If you’re experiencing negative thoughts and they are becoming overwhelming, it could be time to reach out for professional help. You can talk to a helpline or get in touch with a therapist who will help you lay out a plan to attack these unhelpful thoughts. 

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