By Hannah Hopper, LPC

When you’re cooped up indoors, isolated, and unable to keep up with your typical routine, it’s a prime environment for negative thoughts to start spiraling. There are lots of different approaches to curbing negative thoughts, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all quick fix. It takes effort and lots of time to retrain your brain, because chances are good that it took your brain a while to learn these negative thought patterns too. But below are some tools that have been helpful for a lot of people when the negative thoughts start to spiral. 

Cut Out the “Shoulds”

Do you ever notice that you use a lot of “shoulds” when talking to yourself? Using statements like “I should stop acting like that” or “I should be better at my job” creates a lot of pressure and can send you into a guilt spiral. This can also cause you to feel more anxiety for not doing the things you feel like you “should” do and it creates a nearly impossible standard for you to live up to. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone falls short of their own expectations; that’s part of being human. We also like to avoid situations that are more pressure-filled, so if everything feels like an absolute must, it’s likely that you’ll end up avoiding it to escape the pressure. So instead of using “shoulds”, try focusing on phrases like “I’ll try my best to act differently in that situation” or “I can work harder at my job by…”

Look for Themes of Negative Thought Patterns

Observe your thoughts by writing them down in a journal and then taking a step back. As you look at what you’ve journaled over the past several days, notice if there are any particular types of negative thoughts that come up. Once you’re able to start noticing the themes (maybe these themes could be summed up as “I’m always going to fail” or “no one really likes me”) you can recognize and observe your thoughts, instead of getting overwhelmed by them. Over time you can begin to notice these thoughts just for what they are: thoughts, nothing else. You’ll even become more familiar with how your mind can jump to the worst-case scenario, and recognize when that’s happening in the moment. 

Journal Other Possible Scenarios 

As you notice the negative thought patterns, see if there is any catastrophizing (jumping to the worst-case scenario) going on. When you’re journaling and writing down the worst-case scenario that your thoughts take you to, also write down an alternative of what could happen. Instead of the worst outcome, what are some other possible outcomes? The more you do this and track the other possible scenarios that could play out, it’ll be easier to stop yourself when you start catastrophizing. 

Be Kind to Yourself

Show yourself kindness by accepting the emotions behind the negative thoughts, and this will go a long way in helping to diffuse them. The more we push down our feelings of anxiety or sadness, the more they will bubble up and fight to be noticed. Take several moments to check in with yourself and allow your emotions to exist without judgment or criticism. As you accept and allow those emotions, see if there’s space to show some compassion for what you’re going through and what you’re feeling. Take time to care for and listen to your emotions in the same way you’d make time to listen to a close friend. 

Finding different ways to talk to yourself and to manage your thoughts can decrease anxiety and increase your self-esteem. If you’d like to understand more about how to curb your negative thought patterns, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our Chicago therapists at Symmetry Counseling.