What is a ‘Negative Thought Spiral’ and How Do I Pull Myself Out?

What is a ‘Negative Thought Spiral’ and How Do I Pull Myself Out?

Anxious moments happen to everyone. Some of us experience a thought spiral, which is when one pesky thought leads to another one, and then another one, without an end in sight.

Many of us may be experiencing this more lately, especially in regard to health concerns. For example, your thought spiral might follow a similar process as the following:

“I have a tickle in my throat, I bet I’m sick. If I’m sick, I shouldn’t go to class because I’ll infect everyone in the class. But if I don’t go to class, I’ll fail this test, and if I fail this test, I’ll never get into college.”

Sound familiar? This thought spiral can also be labeled catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thinking is when you predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes. No matter how true and valid each thought feels, it’s important to remember they are just that, thoughts. Which is to say, they are not reality.

How to Pull Yourself Out of a Negative Thought Spiral

So, what can you do when you start to feel anxious and find yourself stuck under an avalanche of catastrophic thoughts?

  1. Think about times when you have worried about something similar and remind yourself of how it actually turned out. For example, think about the last time you were anxious before writing a paper or making a presentation, how did it go? Did you receive an “A” or “B” in the past? Did the presentation go well or just so-so? There are so many options in between the best and worst case scenarios.
  2. Imagine yourself coping well with any outcome. Think about what’s helped you manage anxiety in the past. Did going for a run help? Listening to music? Calling a friend? Studying or preparing for the test or presentation then getting a good night’s sleep?
  3. Use some mindfulness techniques. Listen to a meditation on your phone, get completely lost in a crossword puzzle, or draw a picture.
  4. Remind yourself this is a temporary feeling. Practice allowing the thought to move through you instead of getting stuck with you.

Finding what works best for you may take some trial and error. Once you find what works, jot it down. Having this list will come in handy for when you may feel overwhelmed by these thoughts and unable to think clearly.

Take this one step further, and notice what tends to set off some of these thought spirals. Is it writing assignments for school or health related concerns? This can help you to prepare ahead of time for some of these situations and prevent you from going down the rabbit hole.

Authored by:  Jennifer Jamgochian, LMSW