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Dealing with Spiraling Thoughts and Negative Thinking

Williamsburg Therapy Group digs into how to deal with spiraling thoughts and negative thinking.

Have you ever experienced spiraling thoughts? Many people manage negative thinking patterns every day, and if you’re not sure how to free yourself, that spiral of catastrophic thoughts can be debilitating.

When someone has spiraling thoughts, it means that they get trapped in a loop of negative thinking. Even something benign, like someone not responding to a text message, can turn into thoughts of abandonment, worries about their health, or a full-on panic attack.

These thought spirals can be debilitating, and it’s hard to break free.

We’re here to help you take your life back from the struggles of catastrophic thinking. Keep reading to learn about some of the top methods to calm yourself down.

Accept Your Thoughts

It might seem counterintuitive, but the first step towards overcoming your negative thoughts is accepting them.

You can’t avoid negative thoughts completely, and doing so wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, you need to learn how to address these negative thoughts when they arise (in hopes of preventing a thought spiral).

When you feel an anxious or catastrophic thought, let it wash over you without trying to combat it right away. Try to understand your thoughts and figure out what it was that triggered them.

When you spend too much time trying to reject these thoughts and focusing on how they’re "bad," you’ll end up spiraling further.

Develop a Comforting Mantra

One helpful self-soothing technique is to develop a positive thought that you can use to replace the catastrophic thoughts. While this won’t get those thoughts out of your mind, it will give you something else to latch onto to soften the blow.

Consider what your negative thoughts are usually based on and make a mantra that responds to that. For example, if you find yourself getting caught in thought spirals about your self-worth or abandonment, create a mantra that tells you that you are worthy of love and support.

Repeating this to yourself (either out loud or inside your head) is a great way to re-route from those thoughts.

Do Something Physical

If you’re able, it’s a great idea to try to engage in some kind of physical activity when you start feeling a thought spiral coming on. Our brains process things differently when we move around. This is why so many people find themselves pacing when they're thinking or talking.

Your brain is able to make new connections, making it easier for you to free yourself from that thought spiral. Even a short walk around your home is enough to make a change.

If you have more free time, try doing a more structured physical activity, like running, weight lifting, dancing, or yoga.

More intense activities (like cardio and strength training) are great for releasing endorphins.

Endorphins are chemicals that our bodies release when we exercise. They are "happy chemicals" in the brain that can reduce anxiety levels and alleviate pain.

If an intense exercise doesn’t seem right for you, yoga is a great choice. It’s slow, easy on the joints, and it encourages mindfulness. When you do yoga, you have to focus on your body and your breathing patterns.

While many people struggle with conventional breathing exercises, putting them within the structure of yoga can be helpful. When you’re focusing on your breath and your movements, there’s less room for thoughts to spiral.

Try Grounding Exercises

Have you ever tried using grounding exercises to soothe your anxiety? Grounding is another way to use mindfulness. It’s meant to take you "out of your head" and place you back in reality so that the spiraling thoughts aren’t so intense.

For grounding, your goal is to target your senses.

There’s one very popular grounding exercise that you can do wherever you are. You don’t need anything aside from your mind.

You need to acknowledge 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. This might seem like a struggle at first, but when you work on it, you’ll find urself becoming more in-tune with your environment.

If you have the time, there are other ways that you can ground.

Some people suggest putting your hands in cold water or holding ice cubes. This is an extreme sensory change that should draw your mind out of its spiral.

You can also try getting an intensely flavored snack or drink. Eat (or sip) it slowly and try to focus on how it’s impacting your senses. What can you taste? What can you smell?

Rationalize (If Possible)

Once you’re able to soothe some of your catastrophic thoughts, you can try rationalizing. Most of the time, these thoughts aren’t based on reality. When you try to think through them, you might be able to work your way out.

Remember other times where you’ve felt this way. What caused it, and what was the result? Did the thing that you were worried about end up happening, or were you relieved?

What’s the logic behind your initial catastrophic thought? Does it hold up?

To bring back the abandonment example, some people start spiraling when they feel as though someone no longer wants to talk to them. This can even happen after a few hours without communication.

If this sounds like you (and a missed text causes you to spiral), consider what that other person might be doing. Would they have any reason to abandon you? Are they busy with work or other responsibilities?

Most of the time you’ll discover that once you work your way through these thoughts, it’s easy to understand that they don’t make sense. You often won’t be able to do that until you’ve already calmed yourself down, though.

Seek Professional Help for Spiraling Thoughts

If you’re ready to conquer your spiraling thoughts, it might be time for you to seek professional guidance.

All of these coping mechanisms are valuable for dismissing your catastrophic thinking patterns, but therapy may be a better long-term solution. A good therapist will be able to help you understand your thoughts and their triggers so you’re able to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Our mental health professionals at the Williamsburg Therapy Group understand the struggles that stem from catastrophic thoughts. We want to help you learn how to overcome them.

Book an appointment or request a call today. We can’t wait to work with you.

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