4 Tips For Dealing With Negative Thoughts

4 Tips For Dealing With Negative Thoughts

by Dr Emma Gray - 4th July, 2014

4 Tips for Dealing with Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are the main cause of many common mental health problems including anxiety, panic attacks, stress, depression, eating disorders (inc. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, eating disorders not otherwise specified {EDNOs}), obsessive compulsive disorder {OCD}, post traumatic stress disorder {PTSD} and relationship problems.

Negative thoughts are in essence beliefs about oneself, others or the future that are inaccurate and/or unhelpful. The negative thoughts that result in mental health problems (e.g. anxiety and depression) are also very believable and so frequently go unquestioned by the sufferer.

The Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists at The British CBT & Counselling Service have put together a number of tips, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, to help people to deal with negative thoughts and so resolve problems like panic attacks, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD} and relationship problems. These tips are intended for those with mild mental health problems of short duration. For those with more severe and long standing mental health problems that are interfering with their ability to function, formal therapy is likely to be needed; a list of available therapy options with The British CBT & Counselling Service is outlined at the end of this article.

1. 1. Identify the thought

The majority of the negative thoughts that are responsible for mental health problems sit in our unconscious awareness. This is because our conscious awareness is reserved for new and active thinking e.g. information processing, problem solving. The negative thoughts associated with mental health problems have usually been around for some time and so have been relegated to our subconscious.

This process allows us to be cognitively efficient but it means that the thoughts responsible for problems like anxiety and depression are sometimes hard to get hold of. However, we cannot deal with something that we aren’t aware of, so the first thing we must do when tackling the negative thoughts responsible for problems like stress, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is to identify them.

The type of negative thoughts that sit in our subconscious operate automatically (i.e. without the need of conscious intervention), so in order to become aware of them (and identify them) we simply need to practice focusing on them. This may take a bit of time but by drawing our attention to our thoughts whenever we feel anxious or depression and asking ourselves ‘what am I thinking?’, we will gradually be able to pull the negative thoughts responsible for the change in our mood from our subconscious into our conscious awareness.

2. 2. Assess accuracy

Once you have identified the negative thought that is causing your anxiety or depression assess the accuracy of that thought. For example are you overestimating the possibility of a negative future event or underestimating your ability to cope, are you filtering out important details that may lead to a more positive, accurate or helpful evaluation of a past event.

3. 3. Assess helpfulness

Sometimes the negative thoughts that result in mental health problems are quite accurate but do not give us a helpful way forward. For example, when trying to escape from the top floor of a burning building it may be accurate to think ‘I could fall to my death’ but it is not very helpful. Something useful can be achieved or learnt from every experience and opportunity but identifying this is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

4. 4. Construct accurate and help alternative thought

Once you have assessed the accuracy and helpfulness of your thoughts set the intention to discover a more accurate and less self defeating way of thinking about the situation, one that allows you to feel as if you are taking a step forward and gaining something useful from the experience. This will elevated depression and allow anxiety to dissipate.

For more information about dealing with negative thoughts and appropriate therapy and counselling for mental health and other emotional and psychological problems (including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, stress, sleep problems, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, eating disorders not otherwise specified {EDNOs}), obsessive compulsive disorder {OCD}, post traumatic stress disorder {PTSD} and relationship problems) contact our Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologist at The British CBT & Counselling Service.

Specialist Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other therapy and counselling services are available at:

· The Richmond CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
Clarence Court, 1 Dee Road, Richmond, TW9 2JN and 366 Richmond Road, TW1 2DX

· The Clapham CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
Thurleigh Road GP Practice, 88a Thurleigh Rd, Clapham, London SW12 8TT and The Pearl Pharmacy 31 Clapham High Street, SW4 7TR

· The Fulham CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
286 Munster Road, London SW6 6BQ.

· The Marylebone CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
6 Bendall Mews, Marylebone, London, MW1 6SN.

· The Islington CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
134 Liverpool Road, Islington, N1 1LA

· The Canary Wharf CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre
Canada Square E14

· The Kings Cross CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre

· The Nottingham CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre

The Bay Therapy Centre, 21 Trent Boulevard, West Bridgford, Nottingham, NG2 5BB

· The Stamford CBT Counselling & Therapy Centre


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


View all my other articles here...

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