How to Stop Negative Thoughts From Rotating In Your Head

Illustration of person with orbiting thoughts

“I got a lotta s**t in rotation” from Dithering by Ani DiFranco

“I got a lot of s**t in rotation.” Shout out to native artist and activist, Ani DiFranco, for providing the perfect lead into this blog.

Many of us are stuck in our heads more than ever due to Covid-19. The National Science Foundation claims the average person has between 12,000- 60,000 thoughts per day, 80% of which are negative in nature and 95% that are repetitive. That’s a lot to take in! In stressful times like we are experiencing right now, our collective anxiety and depression might be exceeding even these staggering numbers. So what’s an average person supposed to do?

picture of cover-19 virus

As I’ve discussed in previous blogs and podcasts, the profound uncertainty of our times is behind most of the current spike in anxiety and depression. When our thoughts get stuck in endless rumination, it’s not unlike a spinning ride we can’t get off. If I told you there was a free and accessible way to break the cycle of negative thinking and emotions would you be interested? Learning basic relaxation skills can help us access the best parts of our brains. Then we can embrace rather than rid ourselves of unwanted thoughts. Then we can learn to let those thoughts go.

So What’s On Your Playlist of Negative Thoughts and Feelings?

So what’s on your personal playlist of negative thoughts and feelings? Any fake news in there? If we are able to take slow deep breaths to get us into a relaxed state (this does take practice!), we have the opportunity to pause and step back from the litany of thoughts or body sensations we are experiencing at the moment. If we can remain non-judgmental about ourselves (and others, of course) we can explore our experiences with curiosity rather than dread. For example, one might notice having repetitive thoughts of not being good enough or experiencing frequent  ‘butterflies’ in their stomach.

Thoughtful stressed young man with a mess in his head

Identifying and naming these thoughts or emotions out loud gives you an opportunity to take their power away. This allows us to shift into a healthier mode of thinking, feeling, or doing. We might be nervous about starting a new job, just recognizing that you are feeling fear and saying it out loud, “ I realize I am feeling afraid” takes some of the power from the emotion. 

Could you spare as little as ten minutes a day to get started with these practices of Ridding Yourself of Negative Thoughts? 

Most people tell me they don’t have time to get started with healthy positive thinking. However, they spend an inordinate amount of time paying attention to the endless streams of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Once you do begin to pay attention to your thoughts, you may be amazed at your own playlist. With intention, we can counter our negative thinking with thoughts of gratitude and appreciation. Because all humans have a tendency towards negative thinking, we have to really work at recognizing and savoring a positive experience. Our brains actually crave this so you will find that the more you engage in sustained positive thinking, the easier it becomes. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. 

The reality of our current dilemma with the pandemic may be with us for some time. All we really have is the moment we are in. Fear of an unknown future is not helpful when none of us can predict what will happen. All we have is what we do today to help us prepare for the mystery. 

Reframing Negative Thoughts to Positive Ones Is Contagious

woman watering flower other head

Cultivating some simple and accessible skills and strategies during these unprecedented times is also contagious. The more we reframe into positive thinking, the more we will be in the habit of doing so. Using and modeling these skills can also help us metaphorically wash our hands of the stress and anxiety we are all feeling. When we are compassionate with ourselves it is much easier to understand and be thoughtful of others. It is far from a selfish act to take care of ourselves. It is something we can control in these times when everything feels out of control. 

Our website at resiliencetree.com is full of resources,blogs,podcasts and classes that you or someone you care about may find helpful, especially in these troubling times. This is also an opportunity to contribute to reduce the stigma of mental health. We know an untold story is the leading cause of psychological distress. The best thing we can do for each other right now is to be or become the best person we can be. This is not easy work, but we, at resiliencetree.com, are here to support and guide your heroic journey. 

All the best and resiliently yours,

Jim McElrath, LCSW-R Be sure to visit our website at www.resiliencetree.com