How to Quiet Those Pesky Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are part of human nature. And while they can stand in the way of a good mood, they actually serve a purpose. Negativity is an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us avoid danger and react to crises.

While some negative thinking can be useful for survival, constant negativity is detrimental to our health. It can get in the way of happiness, add to stress and worry levels, and ultimately affect overall mental and physical health.

There are ways to control or counter negative thinking when it starts to get in the way of emotional health. Here are some proven strategies:

1. Don’t dwell on trying to stop them
Forgive yourself for having negative thoughts — we all have them. Trying too hard to stop them can actually make the problem worse, as worry only adds to negativity.

2. Acknowledge them
Accepting your negative thoughts is the first step at moving past them. Tell yourself, “I’m obsessing about not getting that job” or, “I’m worrying about forgetting my friend’s birthday.”

3. Challenge them
Challenging negative thoughts is different than stopping them. If you didn’t get the job and you think it’s because you’re incompetent, challenge that assumption. Ask yourself, “Could there be other reasons outside of my control?” or, “What have I done to show that I’m actually a very competent worker?”

4. Use Socratic questioning
Socratic questioning is a concept of disciplined questioning to help see a situation from a variety of perspectives. Imagine your friend had the negative experience. What advice would you give them? Then turn that advice on yourself.

4. Seek support from others
When something negative happens in our lives, we tend to blame ourselves. If you're going through a break-up, for example, you might feel unloveable. If something's going wrong at work, you might feel incompetent. In those moments, we often fail to see the external reasons for our misfortune — which is why it's important to surround ourselves with people we love in difficult times. They can provide positivity and affirmation that is often hard for us to see ourselves.

5. Practice controlled breathing
Breathing exercises can help calm anxiety, ease negative thoughts, and reduce stress. Learn some simple controlled breathing exercises to get you started.

If your negative thoughts and experiences are seriously getting in the way of your ability to work or play, it may be best to talk to a professional who can help you get to the root of the problem.

Through it all, don’t forget to be compassionate with yourself. Remember that negative thoughts are part of human nature — it can be tough to overcome. But with time and practice, these strategies will become more familiar.

Read more on the science of negative thoughts and doctors’ tips in the New York Times.

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