#5 Ways to Stop Negative Thoughts and Calm Your Mind: Know Causes, Signs & Symptoms

May 8, 202410 min
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“Why am I always thinking negatively?”

“Why can’t things go well for once in my life?”

“I am such a failure.”

Do you ever find yourself spiraling into a loop of negative thoughts? These can stem from negative external experiences, such as difficult times at the workplace, arguments with loved ones, or just a day with hassles. Sometimes, these thoughts pause or stop once the event is over. 

However, at other times, these can persist over time and feel like a never-ending cycle. Unfortunately, these can go easily unnoticed as they may arise only for fleeting moments. One may not even notice these thoughts as they arise throughout the day in the moment or at night, but they can have detrimental effects on how you feel about yourself and your well-being. 

Becoming aware of these thought patterns gives an individual the power to take control and positively impact mental health. 

What is Negative Thinking? with Example

Negative thinking in itself is not a mental health disorder but rather a thought pattern. It is a stream of thoughts characterized by negative emotions, such as anger, shame, guilt, or doubt about self, and there can also be a tendency to focus or imagine the worst-case scenarios. 

For example, Raj is a perfectionist and has been a top performer in his office. In an office presentation, he makes a small mistake. He ends up feeling embarrassed and extremely guilty of the mistake. He calls himself ‘stupid’, starts overthinking at night, and doesn’t show up in the office the next day. While his colleagues encourage him to resume work, he finds it very difficult to do so. 

What Raj experienced is different from a stream of worries. He wasn’t just concerned about his performance at work but rather he experienced repetitive negative thoughts about himself and his work. It is not something that he can just ‘not’ think about, but rather something that continues to play in the background of his mind for days and weeks at end.

Is Negative Thinking a Mental Health Disorder?

No, negative thinking is not a mental health disorder or illness. Even though it is not a diagnosable condition, it does not mean that negative thinking is not serious enough to impact your emotional health. 

Negative thinking does not meet the criteria for a mental health disorder. However, it can manifest as a common symptom of mental health disorders. It is also important to note that negative thoughts can vary in intensity, frequency, and duration, and may not be necessarily pervasive. 

Mental health disorders typically involve a constellation of symptoms that impact functioning and cause impairment in social, occupational, and other areas of life. Negative thinking can then be a symptom or manifestation of an underlying condition

What Disorder Causes Negative Thinking?

While negative thinking can present as a prominent symptom in some mental health conditions, there may not be a causal relationship. Rather, the negative thinking may get intensified or more pervasive in these conditions. 

Here are some examples:

Depression: In Depression, Individuals may experience persistent sadness, hopelessness, and negative, self-critical thoughts. For example, “I am not a good person.”

Anxiety: In Anxiety an individual may experience excessive worry, overthinking about the worst-case scenarios, and anticipating negative outcomes. For example, “Anything I do, will lead to difficulties in the future.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder: Someone with PTSD may experience negative thoughts about the distressing event, which can further cause distressing emotions. The traumatic event may also influence how people view themselves, their relationships, and the world. Negative thoughts may stem from these beliefs, such as “This world is unsafe and I can’t trust people around me.”

What is the #4 Main Cause of Negative Thinking? 

Apart from mental health issues, there may be other sources of negative thinking as well. These may not be the same for everyone and can vary from time to time. Some of these are:

1. Worries about the future

The future is unknown, but it can make some individuals think about the worst possible outcomes. While anyone can be drawn into worrying about the future, some may be too preoccupied with thoughts about uncertainty in the future.

2. Thoughts about the past

Experiences from the past can make it difficult for some to focus on the present. These thoughts can be linked to shame, guilt, and blame. Someone with negative thinking will likely dwell on their past mistakes and failures.

3. Stress

Certain events in our lives can trigger the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. This plays the role of an alarm system and it warns us of an imminent danger.

For example, if someone in the office is spreading rumors about you, this immediately raises your alarms and subsequently the release of cortisol. This also paves the way for automatic negative thoughts or the worst-case outcomes. Positive thoughts are harder to think of, but negative thoughts are not so much.

4. Social media

Social media exposes us to all types of information. While there are filters to choose what we want to expose ourselves to, it can flood our headspace with negative thoughts. Information on social media is also a shortcut and quick, which can in many ways fuel social comparison, FOMO, and feelings of inadequacy.

Why does Negative Thought come to our Mind?

Once in a while, humans find themselves in the traps of negative thinking. It is not pleasant, but there are reasons why our minds go there. Humans have evolved to possess, learn, and transform language. Our language becomes the vehicle for threat detection.

In many ways, our brains have a natural tendency to focus on potential dangers or threats in the environment. Neuroscientists call it the negativity bias that helps us analyze a potential threat and think of ways to avoid it.

While these mechanisms helped our ancestors survive in their environment, in today’s world they can lead to endless cycles of negative thoughts. This leads us to think negatively even when there is no real threat in the environment. Research also shows that this negativity bias is linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety (Williams et al, 2009).

Why does Negative Thought come to our Mind

#6 Signs that you are trapped in Negative Thinking

Some common signs of negative thinking are:

  1. Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  2. Repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative emotions ( rumination)
  3. Negative thoughts that sound absolute. Eg, “I am never going to feel better”, “I always mess up!”
  4. Negative thoughts that impact how you feel about yourself and your environment.
  5. Negative thoughts pop into the mind, without any active effort.
  6. Thoughts seem to have a disturbing nature and are difficult to switch off.

Therapeutic Approaches to Manage Negative Thinking

Fortunately, there are various therapeutic approaches that address negative thinking. One common component of these treatments is to recognize the thoughts and notice their impact. 

A. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy recognizes the role of thoughts in impacting mood and behavior. The aim of this therapy is to recognize unhealthy thought patterns known as thinking errors and replace them with healthier alternatives. It may not be possible to think about positive alternatives all the time, but it is possible to replace negative thoughts with more realistic ones.

CBT emphasizes identifying the thinking errors that are unhelpful and substituting them with the helpful thought process. The way we feel influences the types of thoughts that pop into our heads, which makes us vulnerable to experiencing thoughts that are critical and negative.

Our brains can fall back on biases or shortcuts that lead us to view things more than they really are. These biases can further fuel negative thinking. Some common examples are:

 Here are some examples of thinking errors:

  1. All-or-none Thinking: You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, “I’ve blown my diet completely.” This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

Counter: Think of a spectrum with black-and-white thoughts on the extreme. Is there a way to see something that lies in between? Can the young woman be successful in completing her diet in some ways?

  1. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed a bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, “Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!”. 

Counter: One way to challenge this bias is by thinking of exceptions. Is there an instance where a thought would be untrue?

  1. Should statements: Thoughts with shoulds and must fixate minds on how people and the world ought to be. These unrealistic standards and expectations can set individuals up for disappointment and guilt. 

Counter: Recognizing that others can have differing expectations, which may not be the same as ours. Additionally, one can try replacing should statements with ‘can’ statements. For instance, instead of thinking  “I should be perfect,"  one can think, “I can try to excel in this area.”

  1. Mental filter

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water.

Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

Counter:  Think of instances that balance these thoughts. For instance, if one thinks that no one likes them, they can think about any positive instance that may have discounted it.

  1. Catastrophization:

You jump to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very limited information or objective reason to despair. Catastrophizing is sometimes called “magnifying,” where in your mind you exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings. for example, you say “I will always feel this way,” or “I will never be able to qualify for the exam”

Counter: Ask yourself to counter thoughts against the catastrophic thought. What would the worst-case scenario look like? Have you faced a similar situation before? Are there any resources that can help you?

 B. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

CBT may not work for everyone. In such a case, one can opt for ACT which helps an individual accept difficult thoughts rather than actively changing them. According to this therapy, one learns to accept what they can’t control and commit to taking actions that can lead to a better and healthier life. 

Instead of arguing the reality of the thoughts. ACT encourages one to engage in compassionate inquiry and ask, “Is this thought helping me in any way?”

C. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Similar in its approach to ACT, MBCT focuses on observing thoughts from a non-judgmental perspective. This can involve learning mindful meditation that teaches people to pay conscious attention to their thoughts and feelings and be present in the moment without developing any aversive feelings towards their thoughts.

5 Best Ways to Stop Negative Thinking and Be Relaxed[how to replace negative thoughts with positive]

Negative thoughts can be like uninvited guests encroaching on one’s headspace. However, they don’t have to become permanent residents. There is no perfect or best way to remove negative thoughts and can vary on individual preferences. Here are five ways that one can try to stop negative thoughts and feel relaxed:

1. Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness allows one to take active and conscious control over one’s thoughts. People can opt for various meditations that help to build greater awareness of thoughts, emotions, and breathing. 

Meditation is not the only way to become more mindful. One can take mindful walks, and engage in mindful eating to engage their sense organs to the present moment. It is important to remember that engaging in mindfulness does not always require a complicated process.

2. Practice compassion

Negative thoughts can be about past mistakes, arguments, negative feelings, and others. Forgiveness and compassion allow an individual to consciously put attention to where it can help them. Forgiveness can be misunderstood and it doesn’t mean condoning or ignoring injustice, but a way to let go and feel better.

3. 3M strategy

Negative thoughts can make one feel stuck. The 3 M strategy offers a practical way to pull oneself out of the anxious spiral. 

Move: To see if one can engage in a healthy physical action. It can be as simple as doing 10 jumping jacks or taking a brief walk, something that gets one out of their mind.

Make: While it can seem that overthinking helps an individual, it does not necessarily. By engaging in a creative activity, one can take action to do something in the world, rather than spiral in their head.

Meet: Social connection can bring our attention to the present and give a more balanced perspective. 

4. Reframe thoughts

Not all thoughts are facts. Even though the brain engages in active threat detection, not everything it detects is going to represent reality or a real threat. When experiencing a negative thought, one can take a mental step back and reframe it rather than seeing it as literal truth.

For example, rather than constantly focusing on “I am going to fail”, take a step back and reframe it: “I am having a thought that I am going to fail.”

5. Journaling

Taking time to address one’s thoughts rather than swimming in them is a more effective technique. One way of doing this can be to journal thoughts and recognize patterns. One may also notice cognitive distortions as one records their thoughts. Some prompts to consider while journaling are:

  • What makes me feel that this thought is true? Is there evidence in support of it?
  • What is the evidence that this thought is not true?
  • Is there a way to think alternatively about this?
  • If a friend would be in a similar situation, what would I tell them?
  • What would happen if these negative thoughts cease?


Negative thoughts can be invitations for change. People can become more aware of their internal patterns by observing the situations they arise in and who they arise around. Before we learn to change negative thoughts, it is important to use them as a window to our inner emotional world. 

Managing negative thoughts can be difficult. At Mave Health, we recognize this and connect you to a professional, with expertise in CBT, ACT, and other therapeutic modalities to gain more control over negative thinking and live a healthier life


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Clinical Psychologist