7 ways to get rid of negative thoughts

7 ways to get rid of negative thoughts

To get rid of negative thoughts, you need to identify your negative way of thinking and try to reframe it into something more positive.

Reviewed by:
Brenda Camacho, MD
|
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May 2, 2024
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Key takeaways

We all have negative thoughts from time to time. However, if you find your mind constantly wandering to worst-case scenarios, it makes sense that you’re wondering how to remove negative thoughts from your mind.  

In fact, the first step in changing these thoughts is identifying them, so you’re off to a great start! In this article, we’ll review how to identify negative thoughts and seven healthy coping methods to keep in mind.  


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Cognitive distortions: Understanding negative thoughts

Cognitive distortions are negative, inaccurate thought patterns. They may present differently depending on the person and the situation. In some situations, cognitive distortions look like catastrophizing or assuming the worst-case scenario will happen. In others, they look like all-or-nothing thinking or dismissing good things that happen that they’ve experienced. They may even look like intense self-criticism or believing things are always your fault.  

Regardless of which distortions are most common for you, don’t worry. Although these thoughts are distressing and can aggravate some people’s depression and anxiety, it’s possible to change them. Keep reading to learn how to let go of negative thoughts.  

Before we dive into coping mechanisms, it’s important to know that negative thoughts are different from intrusive thoughts—which are often alarming and unwanted thoughts and images. These two types of thoughts are similar, but intrusive thoughts have a habit of popping up repeatedly, and may be a symptom of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). If you think you’re having intrusive thoughts, talk to a mental health professional about the right coping methods for you.

Related article: Why do I overthink everything? How do I stop?

Become aware of cognitive distortions

Remember how we said that noticing your cognitive distortions is the first step to getting rid of them? It’s true! Practice noticing each time a negative thought pops up. The key to this is not immediately dismissing the thought. Try accepting that you’re having the thought, while recognizing that it’s inaccurate at the same time.  

Keep an ear out for any thoughts that use “never” or “should.” For example, “I’ll never get a good job” or “I should fit into a smaller jean size.” Negative self-talk is often a cognitive distortion.

Additionally, pay attention when you notice yourself assigning negative labels. For example, if you forget to take out the trash and think, “I’m a lazy person,” it’s a cognitive distortion. You’re giving yourself or others negative labels because of a situation that often has another, more logical explanation.  

Another way to tell if a thought is negative is if you’re engaging in emotional reasoning—when you assume something must be true because of how you feel at a certain moment. Imagine that something goes wrong at work, and you feel guilty. You may assume it’s your fault because of how you feel, but that might not be the objective truth.

Over time, noticing and accepting these thoughts will get easier and easier.  

Reframe negative thoughts

Once you’ve noticed a negative thought, reframing that thought is a great way to turn your mindset around. Here’s how:

  • Notice the thought.
  • Check the thought’s accuracy. Are you actually to blame? Do you really need to change something about yourself or the other person? Is the negative outcome actually the most likely? Whatever thought you’re having, consider whether it’s objectively true.
  • Replace the thought with a more positive alternative.  

Let’s consider an example. Imagine you’re preparing for a job interview, and you catch yourself thinking, “I’ll never get this job. I’m not as qualified as the other applicants.”  

  • Recognizing this negative way of thinking is an important first step.
  • Consider the accuracy. They’ve asked you to interview for the job, so it’s possible you’ll land the role. Similarly, they wouldn’t have asked you to interview if you weren’t qualified. Plus, you likely don’t know any of the other candidates or what their qualifications are, so there’s no proof they’re more qualified than you.
  • Reframe the thought. “I’m qualified for this job. I’ve worked hard to prepare for this interview, and I’m prepared to answer any questions they ask.”  

3. Take deep breaths

Catching yourself in a negative thought spiral can be overwhelming. Next time you notice cognitive thoughts coming up, take a minute to do deep breathing exercises. Deep breaths activate your parasympathetic nervous system—the body’s way of calming you down.

One deep breathing technique is called pursed lip breathing. Give it a try by following these steps:

  • Inhale through your nose for two seconds.
  • Purse your lips like you’re making a kissing face or drinking through a straw.
  • Exhale through your mouth for a longer period—at least four seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel more relaxed.

4. Journal your thoughts

Journaling is a great way to help yourself identify negative thoughts. Why? Because putting pen to paper and seeing your thoughts physically written down helps give you some perspective and self-awareness. Many people find it easier to identify that thoughts are untrue or self-critical when they write them down, rather than letting the thoughts repeat inside their heads.  

Next time you feel stuck in a negative thought process, consider writing down your thoughts and seeing how you feel. If it helps, make journaling part of your self-care routine.

5. Prioritize wellness

Overall wellness leads to lower stress levels and a healthier mind and body. For example, good sleep is essential to your physical and mental health. It also helps keep those pesky negative thoughts at bay. In fact, sleep deprivation can increase feelings of anxiety and depression and increase the frequency of negative thoughts.  

In addition to getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, drinking water, and staying active are all great ways to improve your mental health.  


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6. Say positive affirmations

Positive affirmations are a great way to combat low self-esteem, improve your self compassion, and promote positive thought processes. Consider saying positive affirmations in the mirror each morning or anytime you feel stressed.  

Here are just a few examples of affirmations you can say:

  • I am capable of success.
  • I am smart and kind to others.
  • I have healthy relationships that I’m proud of.
  • I am beautiful, and I don’t need to change anything about myself.
  • I am good at my job and have great relationships with my coworkers, so no one is going to get mad at me.

7. Develop a gratitude practice

In addition to affirmations, practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to increase positive thinking and help you stay grounded in the present moment. Spend a few minutes each day thinking or writing down what you're grateful for. They can be things about yourself, your job, your loved ones—anything that makes you thankful for your life! Doing this over time helps your brain practice looking for positive things around you rather than negative ones.

Getting help for negative thinking

If negative thought patterns impact your daily life, it’s a good idea to work with a professional, like a cognitive behavioral therapist, to develop healthier thought processes. Mental healthcare professionals are equipped to help you handle particularly challenging thought distortions, and can help you so that your day-to-day life is more fulfilling and positive. Sometimes negative feelings might be rooted in a mental health condition, like depression, and a doctor or psychiatrist can help you figure out if you have it.

That’s where Talkiatry comes in. Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.

FAQs

Here’s what else to know about negative emotions and how to stop them.

What is negative thinking?

Negative thinking refers to a pattern of pessimistic or self-critical thoughts that can impact our emotions, behaviors, and overall well-being. It involves dwelling on the negative aspects of situations, ourselves, or others, often leading to feelings of sadness, anxiety, or self-doubt.

What causes negative thinking?

Negative thinking can have various causes, including past experiences and environmental factors. Painful memories, unresolved conflicts, and cognitive biases such as catastrophizing and confirmation bias can also contribute as well as external factors like stressful relationships. In some cases, chemical imbalances in the brain, such as from depression or anxiety disorders, can be underlying causes.  

How can I let go of negative feelings and thoughts?

To stop thinking negatively, you need to do a few things. First, you have to be aware of your thoughts and try to focus on the present moment. Then, you should try to change your negative thinking patterns and look at things from a different point of view. It's also important to be kind to yourself and treat yourself with love and understanding. And if you're really struggling, it's okay to ask for help from a professional. By doing these things, you can slowly let go of negative thoughts and start thinking more positively.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

About
Brenda Camacho, MD

Dr. Brenda Y. Camacho holds the position of Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. She is board-certified in Adult Psychiatry. She has been practicing for over 25 years.

While having treated a wide range of adult patients, Dr. Camacho’s primary focus is treating adult outpatients with mood or psychotic disorders. Her practice focuses on medication management. Typically, she offers this in conjunction with supportive or insight-oriented therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. On occasion, Dr. Camacho will believe additional therapy is also needed and asks that you bring a therapist into your care team to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Camacho completed her undergraduate studies at Tufts University. She received her medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA and then continued with Temple for her residency in adult psychiatry. After completing training, Dr. Camacho worked at Cooper Hospital in Camden NJ as Associate Director of Consultation/Liaison Service and Psychiatry Residency Training and Co-Director of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic. She then began working exclusively in outpatient settings, joined NewPoint Behavioral Health Care, and served as Medical Director before and after their merge with Acenda Integrated Health.

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