photo credit: Kat Jayne

Negative thought loops cause anxiety. Looping through worst-case scenarios or traumatizing events activates our “fight or flight” response. They also paralyze us, making us unable to take action.

It feels like we’re doing something about our problems because we’re “busy” dedicating time and energy to the issues. But we’re not actually doing anything to solve the problem. Action is how we solve problems. You can dramatically increase your chances of problem-solving if you understand how your mind works and get your thoughts out of loop form. Here’s why and how:

When our negative thoughts loop through our heads, it feels like our problems are endless. In fact, we’re sort of proving to ourselves that there’s no solution: “See? I can’t do anything about this! It is an unsolvable problem!” We start the thought loops to solve problems, but we prevent problem-solving by paralyzing ourselves.

When you remain in a high state of arousal, you actually inhibit your ability to act! You probably even experience a problem loop in your life, not just in your mind. You think things are going to suck (repeatedly) and therefore they DO suck.

If you believe you can’t solve a problem, you won’t solve it – why would you continue trying if you already know “I can’t solve this”?? If you’re anything like I was, instead of realizing that your thinking is the problem, you go right back to the negative thought loops.
When you think and think – you’re not living your life. You’re in your head, suffering. You’re not living well now, which means not preparing for a good future. The reason you want to solve your problems is so you can have a better life, but the thought loops prevent that.

You don’t have to live like this!

I had to have it pointed out to me that I had negative thought loops. When I recognized this it was a game-changer! Even as a life-long optimist I was still ruminating and catastrophizing!

There is a way out! I am living proof! The process I went through to get out of negative thought loops helped me to solve my problems and prevent untold future problems. It included observing thoughts, thinking on purpose, processing thoughts, and changing perspective.

Observe your thoughts.

Once you can see your thought patterns, you can’t un-see them. This will show you how damaging they are. You’re causing anxiety and not living in the present (which almost guarantees a sh*tty future!). In fact, you are basically PLANNING a sh*tty future. It’s been said, “Worry is like praying for the worst possible future.”

Observing your thoughts gives some objectivity. It allows you to be both the observer and the observed. This gives you distance from your thoughts, helping you realize you don’t have to be consumed by them. That space can be magic because you might be able to wedge a little something in there, like a new thought.

This will help you really internalize that you can control your thoughts – you’re not at the whim of your brain. Once you internalize this, you can start shifting your thoughts. This will give you some power and control over a situation you previously felt was uncontrollable.

Give your mind a job to do!

When you recognize you’re in a thought loop, give your mind something else to think about. It’s your mind’s job to think, but you don’t have to settle for what comes up automatically. Talk to your brain more than you listen to your brain.

Some jobs for your mind include: praying for others, reciting the alphabet, singing a song, imagining the steps of a dance. It doesn’t matter as long as it gets you out of the negative loop and out of that state of arousal. Then, you’ll be much more able to take some kind of action toward solving your problem.

Process your thoughts to let out painful emotions.

One of the most effective ways to manage negative thought loops is to process them. Processing allows you to release negative emotions, and it also leads to resolution. Negative thought loops don’t.

One way to process your thoughts is to put them down in writing. It takes them out of loop form and into linear form. This allows you to see that your thoughts are finite. When they’re spinning in your head, they feel endless – but they’re not. Once you see that your thoughts have a beginning and an end, you’ll realize that your problems are also finite. They’re not as overwhelming as you thought.

If writing isn’t your thing, you could record yourself talking. When you state your thoughts out loud, you’re not going to keep repeating the same thing the way you do in your head.

Talking to another person is one of the best ways to process your emotions. You’re not going to loop your thoughts in conversation the way you do in your head. And the added bonus here is that you get the perspective of another person. And perspective is what we need when we’re dealing with our problems.

Another way to shift perspective is to bring your problems into context. No matter how daunting your problems are, there IS a solution. Every problem that has ever happened in history has been resolved. Shifting your perspective like this can be a game-changer.

You can also shift perspective by becoming present. If you want to move away from the anxiety produced by your negative thought loops, learn how to “be here now.” The most common way to do that is to focus on your breath. Take deep breaths and pay attention to the entire inhale and exhale. This takes the focus off your negative thoughts and calms your body. You’re taken out of the shallow breathing of “fight or flight” mode and telling your body, “I’m safe” when you can breathe deeply.

Overcoming negative thought loops in a nutshell.

People typically start negative thought loops to try to solve problems. It often backfires because we paralyze ourselves with anxiety. There are ways out of this type of thinking, all of which involve taking action. Action you can take include: observing your thoughts and inserting new ones; processing your thoughts to release negative emotions and getting them out of loop form and into a linear form so you can see they’re finite; shift your perspective on your problems by bringing them into context, or bringing your attention to the present moment.