How to Stop & Soothe Negative Thought Spirals

Brianne Hogan

Click here to read the full article.

It’s a tough world out there right now. With so much uncertainty, fear, and intense energy, it’s no wonder why so many of us find ourselves spiraling through worst case scenarios and scary thoughts and feelings. Then, of course, once we find ourselves down this negative rabbit hole, it can be so hard to climb out of it.

“Negative thoughts spiral when they become a pattern, and we call these ‘thinking traps’ or ‘unhelpful thinking styles,’” Dr. Elena Touroni, psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, tells SheKnows. “Some of the most common are catastrophizing (predicting the worst case scenario), black and white thinking (seeing things in extremes – good or bad, positive or negative) and emotional reasoning (when we base our view according to how we feel rather than the facts).” 

More from SheKnows

The danger of negative thought spirals, says Touroni, is when we start believing everything we think. 

“Thoughts aren’t facts. [But] when we get trapped in an unhelpful thinking style, our negative thoughts influence how we feel and how we behave,” she says. “We can end up trapped in a negative cycle where we start acting on our distorted thoughts which reinforces our own belief in them. And so the cycle continues.” 

So how do we rid ourselves of these negative cycles and return to a place of peace and acceptance? Read on for some expert-guided tips.

First, don’t suppress the negative thought. 

“It’s important to pause and pay attention to the negative thought but not get trapped into entertaining or engaging with the negative thought,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, and author of Joy from Fear, tells SheKnows. “Research shows that it’s important not to suppress negative thoughts as this only hardwires them further. Instead, notice the negative thought and then let it float away. Then, select a positive thought or visual to engage with in place of the negative thought that you set free.”

Don’t forget to breathe

When you feel worried, Manly says that’s a perfect opportunity to take a time-out to breathe.  “Close your eyes and breathe in for a count of four; then breathe out slowly to the count of four. When worries and stress begin to rise, be kind to yourself…pause to relax and breathe. A worried mind gets very calm when it’s focused on breathing rather than worrying.” 

She also recommends putting a “Remember to breathe!” sticky note on your mirror, on the refrigerator, or inside your desk drawer at work when you need that extra reminder to slow down. 

Don’t believe everything you think

“Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean it’s true. When you notice you’re being hard on yourself or thinking very negatively, take a step back and question the thought you’re having,” suggest Touroni. “Is there any evidence to support this? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you seeing the whole picture or just focusing on the worst possible scenario?” Step back and reframe and look at the bigger picture about what’s actually happening.

Try a positive message mantra

When negative thoughts get a hold on you, Manly recommends focusing on a positive message or mantra that feels strong and calming for you.  “For example, your mantra might be, ‘All will be well.  All will be good. Things will work out.’” Manly suggests keeping a copy of your mantra in your wallet, on your mirror, and on your desk for a handy reminder during stressful moments.

“Repeat the mantra or phrase when you are calm and relaxed. Your brain will come to associate the gentle, supportive words with a positive, relaxed state,” she says. “It can be helpful to repeat the words as you press a specific finger or place on your hand—’anchoring’ the calming energy into yourself. At the slightest hint of anxiety or stress, repeat the mantra or phrase. If it feels better to touch the anchoring place on your hand or finger, add in this element for greater benefit.”

Treat yourself as your own best friend

When you find yourself thinking horrible thoughts about yourself, Touroni says it’s important to stop and ask yourself, whether you would talk to a friend in this way. “Often we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a friend. Next time you are being hard on yourself, try showing yourself the same kindness and compassion you’d show a friend.”

Touroni also suggests digging deeper to understand where this self-criticism stems from. “Do you feel like you’re trying to prove something (to yourself or others)? Can you trace back to where this all started? Therapy is a great place to start exploring your earlier experiences and how they might be impacting you now.”

Think of a peaceful image instead

“When negative thoughts start to take hold, transport yourself to a more positive place by envisioning a real or imaginary scene that feels serene,” suggests Manly. “Perhaps the setting is a field of lavender, a quiet beach, or a tree-covered hilltop. Imagine yourself in this calm setting, perhaps inviting a favorite animal or trusted friend to join you.”

Whatever your positive image might be, Manly recommends to practice envisioning it when you are relaxed. “Etch the details of the beautiful, peaceful image into your mind—notice everything, from the colors and scents to the plants and sky. Allow this image to become a safe resting place. Then when a stressful situation begins to arise, take a break or time-out. As you imagine yourself in that beautiful, stress-free environment, your anxiety and stress will dissipate.”

Our mission at SheKnows is to empower and inspire women, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

Investing in your mental health can be hard — but here’s a few of our favorite, most affordable mental health apps to help you out: 

Launch Gallery: The Best & Most Affordable Mental Health Apps

Best of SheKnows

Sign up for SheKnows' Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

More From

  • Kids Uggs Are on Sale Just in Time for Back to School

    Buying Ugg boots in the middle of summer might sound a little odd, but what makes sense anyways right now? But if they're on mega sale, it's never too early to start back-to-school shopping. It just so happens that DSW's latest kids shoe sale has a handful of comfy kids Ugg styles on sale, plus […]

  • The EPA Just Approved Two Disinfectant Sprays That Kill COVID-19 on Surfaces — Here’s Where to Buy Them Online

    Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the hunt for products that protect against and, ideally, destroy the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has led to people stripping stores bare or resorting to ill-advised DIY measures to feel safer. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of approved cleaning products that were tested and […]

  • It's Already Inappropriate for You to Touch My Baby — Mid-Pandemic, It's Worse

    I've never liked it when strangers squeeze and snuggle my son. And now, there's a pandemic thrown into the mix. As stay-at-home orders begin to ease up in favor of social distancing, I've noticed that adults are quite respectful of my space. But they're feeling surprisingly free about sashaying into my baby's.  When the quarantine […]

  • Now You Can Sleep With Harry Styles — Thanks to Calm App

    Have you ever wanted to be lulled into a gentle, snuggly sleep with the deep, soft accented voice of Harry Styles? Dreams really do come true! No, you won't be nestled against his tattooed chest while he plays with your hair and tells you he's proud of you — but his new collaboration with meditation […]