how to stop spiraling thoughts

With physical cuts, bruises, or wounds, treatment is typically straightforward. You put some ointment on the affected area, wrap it up in gauze and wait for it to heal.

However, dealing with constant negative thoughts doesn’t work the same way, especially if they arise from unresolved, underlying problems. To complicate matters, these thoughts usually linger, burrowing deep into your psyche and causing additional distress.

So, how do you stop spiraling thoughts from taking over your life?

This article answers precisely that. From recognizing your engagement and behavioral patterns to proven tips for dealing with such issues, everything listed here can help you overcome negative thought loops.

Read on to know more.

How Do You Recognize Your Thinking Patterns?

how to stop spiraling for good

The first step to breaking out of a cycle of rumination is to recognize the kind of thoughts you have. This can be tricky, considering there is no standard for how a person thinks.

Yet, if you examine things a little closer, you'll realize your thoughts typically fall under four broad categories. This includes the following:

1. Catastrophizing

Do you find yourself imagining the worst possible outcome before engaging with anything? Or, maybe, you come to a negative conclusion before considering all the facts.

Often, this style of thinking revolves around ‘what if’ scenarios. For instance, if a loved one is late from work, do you go — “What if they were in an accident?” If that’s the case, you are catastrophizing.

2. The Shoulds and Musts

Setting unreasonable expectations for yourself in any situation is the surest way of inviting disappointment. And if you find it challenging to stop spiraling thoughts, this can only add to your problems.

So, instead of thinking along the lines of — “I should have been able to ace that test” — try and recognize the fact that every day brings new challenges. In some cases, you will come up short. At other times, you may end up performing better than you expected.

Either way, your successes or shortcomings, however important they seem at the moment, aren't the sum total of who you are.

3. Dealing with Absolutes

A critical mistake to avoid is thinking in complete absolutes. Consider this statement, for instance: “I am such a mess.” Such thoughts are unhelpful and oversimplify your problems, leaving you with no potential resolution in sight.

Instead, a better way to view the situation would be to go: “Things might be a mess right now. So, what can I do to change it?”

This will help you address the situation objectively rather than criticize yourself.

4. Minimization and Magnification

Are you always focusing on the negative while playing down the positive side of a situation? For example, if you had to make a presentation at your workplace and got relatively good feedback, do you fixate on the minor error you made instead of appreciating what you did right?

If that's almost always the case, you are likely a person who engages with the minimization (of positive events) and the magnification (of undesirable outcomes) thinking style.

Now, it’s important to note that you may be engaging with more than one of the mentioned thinking styles. While that may sound concerning to you, it is not entirely unheard of. Nonetheless, this article factors all of these styles into the coping strategies listed below.

10 Proven Tips to Stop Spiraling Thoughts

Several techniques can help you recognize how to stop spiraling for good. However, as people have unique reactions, thought patterns, and behavioral habits, not all of them may be appropriate for you.

To that end, here is a consolidated list of ten simple yet effective tips for dealing with negative thoughts: 

i). Identify Your Triggers

It's crucial that you understand what sets off your negative thoughts. As you analyze these triggers, try and look for commonalities between them. For example, is there one specific event or thing that consistently causes you to worry? More importantly, do you begin to obsess over it at the slightest provocation?

In most cases, people who find it challenging to stop spiraling thoughts have unresolved issues pertaining to a past event, ‘supposed' personal shortcomings, or an inability to cope with their current environment.

Identifying your triggers and coming to terms with their severity is the first step to breaking out of this cycle.  

ii). Refocus Your Emotions 

One of the most effective ways to stop spiraling thoughts is to reach for a slightly different emotion. It doesn’t even have to be something related to what you are currently thinking about.

So, say your recent performance at work has you feeling dejected. But you are meeting some old friends from school during the weekend. In this case, redirect your attention to the upcoming weekend plans.

This will help you recognize that no specific thing is the sole master of your emotions. Instead, there are valleys and peaks in every individual’s life.

iii). Question and Analyze 

A common thread in almost every discussion surrounding how to stop spiraling negative thoughts is fixating on an error or mistake you made.

More specifically, you might feel responsible for a traumatic event, an unintentionally hurtful gesture, or even a rude statement. While it's crucial to take responsibility for your actions, it's also equally important to analyze the situation from an objective point of view.

For example, if you have been overly focused on a recent failure, try asking yourself this: What does feeling bad about it do for you?

iv). Form Some New Habits

There’s no way to prevent things from going wrong. It happens to everyone around you. So, the next time you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts, try to engage in an activity that makes you feel good. Read a book, play a videogame or watch an old movie you are fond of.

Anything works, as long as you focus on what brings you joy. This will allow you to redirect your attention to the positive aspects of your circumstances and minimize thinking about what causes you to worry. Essentially, the idea here is to replace your underlying emotions with activities that rejuvenate you.

v). Stop Leading with ‘Should’ or ‘Must’

Limiting the number of times you begin a thought with ‘I should’ can be an excellent way to stop spiraling thoughts. And a simple way to do that is to come to terms with the fact you don’t have to be exceptional at everything you attempt.

For example, regardless of how fast your reaction time is, there’s a high probability that someone else may be quicker than you. In other cases, you may be regarded as one of the most level-headed individuals among your peers. That doesn’t mean that you must keep your cool in all situations.

It's entirely acceptable to react in a way that deviates from your usual demeanor. As such, your focus should be on learning from your mistakes and thinking about how you can do things differently the next time.

vi). Focus on Your Micro-Goals

Often, people begin to have spiraling thoughts when they set unrealistic for themselves. And, when they fail to achieve those, they start obsessing over their own ‘supposed’ shortcomings.

To avoid this, start setting micro-goals for yourself. So, instead of saying, “I have to lose 20 lbs. in 2 months”, try going along the lines of “I’ll try my best to drop down by 5 lbs. every two weeks.” This will help you break your broader objective into small, actionable steps, resulting in more clarity and purpose.

vii). Shake Up Your Environment

A surefire way to stop spiraling thoughts is to change your immediate environment. And, sometimes, the most effective way to do that is to stand up and walk out of the situation that's causing the negativity.

It can be as simple as taking a walk around the block or busying yourself with unfinished chores. Even better, call a friend and invite them out for coffee.

Doing this will let you remove yourself from a situation you may not have control over. That will help you more than you realize.

viii). Practice Breathing Exercises

Like yoga, breathing exercises are meant to relax you. So, if you find yourself overwhelmed with negative thoughts, shift your attention to your breathing. One exercise that’s been proven to help is to inhale for four counts, hold your breath for another four, and then exhale.

The goal is to redirect your attention and state of mind to align with a rhythmic flow. This will also help you develop more discipline while keeping you calm in stressful situations.

ix). Stop Drawing Comparisons 

When wondering about how to stop spiraling for good, ask yourself a simple question: “Do your negative thoughts come from you drawing constant comparisons between yourself and someone else?”

If that's the case, it’s vital you realize that you are not the only one who struggles with such issues. You can find examples of societal pressure and conditioning in almost every facet of your life. From the ‘perfect body' to the most beautiful house, the world is full of people who want the next shiny thing.

Remember this, though: You are living your life, not someone else’s.

x). Seek therapy

Sometimes, you may not have the mental resources to deal with problems on your own. There could be unresolved trauma from your past that has led to significant emotional distress, or you may be grappling with issues that you can’t identify or vocalize.

It’s critical to seek professional help in such instances. As such, a trained therapist can help you design positive coping mechanisms, come to terms with your problems or make you adopt a fresh perspective on your situation.

Wrapping Up

While the tips listed above can help you formulate coping mechanisms to stop spiraling thoughts, it would be best if you also relied on your support systems.

So, talk to your loved ones about the challenges you face. Let them know that you constantly find yourself in difficult situations so they can help you.

This will keep you from feeling isolated in your struggles and remind you of the vast network of people you have who want the very best for you.

For others who are more introverted or are not comfortable relying on others, it helps to maintain a journal. List the things you constantly worry about and note down solutions to them. Once you do that, you will realize that the problems you consider insurmountable aren't necessarily so.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do frequent negative thoughts indicate mental trauma or illness?

Ans: People who consistently tend to get caught in a negative thought loop may be suffering from depression. If you face something similar, it is advisable to consult a therapist or a psychologist to understand where this stems from. That will also help you develop proven methods that are aimed at how to stop spiraling negative thoughts.

Indeed, clinical counseling has become one of the most opted-for resources to deal with such problems due to changing social perspectives and the recognition of the benefits of seeking professional help.

2. Why do I spiral so easily?

Ans: Owing to significant pressures associated with the modern lifestyle, it has become increasingly difficult for people to avoid stress and negative thoughts in some form or another.

Work pressure, stressful relationships, environmental anxiety triggers – all these things can add up and make you spiral into a negative thought pattern.

3. How do I stop my mind from spiraling?

Ans: It's critical to limit ‘should or must' thinking patterns, recognize your triggers, question why you feel that way, and acknowledge the severity of these thoughts. It also helps to actively seek ways to address the underlying problems causing this.

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Oliver Nelson

Oliver Nelson is a New York based Health Specialist Writer who completed his graduation from Syracuse University back in 2015. His writings were published in the top Healthcare brands in the United States.

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