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How to break the negative thinking loop

Feeling worried or anxious every now and then is normal and is not a sign for concern in itself. Worry can keep us alert, help us remember things, and make us aware of dangers. Humans have evolved to feel worry, and we often use those emotions to drive us towards a solution.

Worrying or feeling anxious can become a problem when it doesn’t go away when the perceived danger is no longer present, or the worry is out of proportion to the threat. Constant anxiety and rumination can mean people get stuck in a negative thought loop, which can affect their mental health and wellbeing.

If you think that someone you care about is stuck in a negative loop, there are a few ways you can help them break free of this thought pattern:

  • Help them recognise their thoughts: Negative thoughts can include worrying about the future, or negative self-talk where the person blames themselves (or others) for what they believe is going wrong. Small thoughts can become repetitive and overwhelming quite quickly. Simply stopping and acknowledging these thoughts is the first step to addressing it.
  • Encourage them to be their own friend: Often the negative things we tell ourselves are self-critical and unrelenting, but we would be unlikely to talk to or think of a friend so harshly. Encourage them to treat themselves as they would a good friend and take the time to offer themselves the same positive reinforcement or encouragement they might offer someone else.
  • Focus on positive people: The mood of others can amplify, or even create negative thought patterns, so try to encourage them to surround themselves with positive people, who aren’t also stuck in an anxious thought loop. You can help fill this role if its lacking and inject some positive feedback into their lives.
  • Show them how to challenge their thoughts: While there are important concerns in life that may need attention, a negative thought loop tends to distort the implications of our actions and decisions. Try to remember that much of what we worry about won’t happen. Helping someone to stop, think and question if their thoughts are actually ‘true’ and definitive can show them that there are other ways to think about their lives and problems.  Sometimes, a different perspective is all that’s needed.
  • Focus on the present: When a worrying thought comes up, teach them to actively switch their focus to what’s going on in their surrounds. This could be as simple as actively listening to, and observing, the surrounding environment, and focusing on breathing. If they have more time or the problem is constant, then a mindfulness or mediation app may help. It may be helpful to remember this famous quote attributed to Lao Tzu “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
  • Bring the inside out: Writing down negative thoughts and throwing them away (or dragging them into the digital trash) has been shown to reduce the influence of negative thoughts. Painting or drawing can also work for this exercise too – encourage the person you care about to give it a go.
  • Talk about it: Encourage them to keep talking about their feelings – they don’t have to discuss solutions, but just talking about our thoughts and feelings can help put things in a new light. They may also wish to seek professional help from a GP, psychologist, or a qualified counsellor.


If you need help or advice on how best to support someone, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our Step Together counsellors a call on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.

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