How To Overcome Negative Thinking

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Negative thinking can be a powerful force in our lives, potentially holding us back from achieving our goals and living the life we want. It can be challenging to recognize when negative thoughts are taking over and break free of their grip. As a result, we may often feel powerless against these destructive thought patterns that seem to keep us stuck in cycles of self-doubt and fear.

However, there are strategies you can use to stop negative thought processes and take control of your life. While it may not be easy, positive thinking can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Learn to identify and counter unhelpful thought patterns

Identifying negative thought patterns

The first step in breaking free of negative thought patterns can be recognizing when it's happening. Negative thoughts can tend to creep up on us and become our dominant thoughts before we even realize what's happening, so being aware of the signs can help you catch them early.

Negative thoughts often come in the form of self-criticism or worry. If your thoughts are focused on past failures and mistakes, it can be a sign that negative thinking may be impacting your daily life. 

You can observe your thoughts and note if they're focused on the negative or if they're optimistic. If it's mainly negative, taking steps to reframe them in a positive light can be a good start. While not all negative thoughts are necessarily bad, it may be time to make a change if you notice that your thoughts are consistently negative and they’re affecting the way you feel on a regular basis.

Types of negative thought patterns

Negative thought patterns can take many forms. Some common types include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: This type of thinking is when we make extreme statements about ourselves or situations that are not true.

  • Overgeneralizing: Drawing conclusions based on limited evidence or experiences.

  • Catastrophizing: When we think of the worst-case scenario and assume it will happen.

  • Personalization: Taking things too personally or blaming ourselves for situations out of our control.

  • Emotional reasoning: Believing that our emotions reflect the truth.

  • Self-limiting beliefs: Believing that we will never achieve our goals or be successful in life.

  • Labeling: Giving ourselves negative labels or putting ourselves down.

  • Mental filtering: Focusing on one negative thought and ignoring all the positive ones.

Negative thinking can take many forms and be deeply ingrained, but the good news is that it can also be unlearned. By recognizing some of these common types of negative thoughts, you can take control of your thinking and start making positive changes.

When it comes to changing your thoughts, being patient and taking small steps can be beneficial. While trying to tackle negative thoughts, it’s important to set achievable goals and work on them one at a time to help you stay motivated and on track. Taking a few moments each day to practice positive affirmations or gratitude can also help to shift your mindset.

Understanding the consequences of negative thoughts

Clinical studies show that negative thinking can be a predictor of depressive symptoms. When we fill our minds with negative thoughts, it may become easier to give in to feelings of helplessness and despair. These feelings can lead to unhealthy behaviors that reinforce negative thought patterns.

Negative thoughts can have a significant impact on our hormones and the body. A report from the University of Minnesota examines how negative thoughts and feelings can activate the body's stress response.

Stress triggers the release of cortisol and other hormones that can cause physical and emotional distress. This cascade of hormones increases inflammation in the body, leading to a higher risk of developing illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Luckily, understanding the consequences of negative thought patterns can be a powerful motivator to change your life and develop healthier thought patterns. Before long, you may find that your outlook on life is much brighter. You'll often be able to recognize negative thoughts when they arise and take steps to reframe them into something positive or empowering.

Negative thought patterns in relationships

Negative thinking can also affect our relationships in a variety of ways. For example, negative thought patterns can lead to avoidance behaviors, such as closing yourself off from others or refusing to engage in meaningful conversations. As a result, negative thoughts often lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness.

In romantic relationships, negative thoughts can create a sense of distance between two individuals. Awareness of your thought patterns and how they may affect your interactions with your partner can be essential.

Some behaviors to look out for that indicate negative thinking include:

  • Jumping to conclusions

  • Blame shifting

  • Making assumptions

  • Expecting the worst

  • Making comparisons

  • Overgeneralizing

These behaviors can lead to resentment or mistrust, making it difficult for two people to build a strong connection. If you notice these behaviors in your thought patterns, take a step back and reassess the situation. Taking the time to evaluate how negative thinking might influence your decisions can help you become aware of thoughts before they have the chance to manifest as destructive behaviors.


Developing strategies for overcoming negative thought patterns

Making a conscious effort to break free from the power of negative thinking can be an essential step toward improving mental health and well-being. Here are some strategies you can use to start the process:

  1. Challenge negative beliefs: When negative thoughts arise, challenging them with facts or evidence from your experience can help you reframe them in a more positive light.

  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, and mindfulness can help you become aware of your thoughts without getting caught in negative thought patterns.

  3. Change your perspective: Considering different perspectives on a situation can help you break free from an overly negative mindset. Looking at a situation from multiple angles can allow you to see opportunities you might otherwise miss and help you make more positive choices.

  4. Positive self-talk: Practicing positive self-talk can be a powerful tool for combating negative thoughts. Reminding yourself of your strengths, accomplishments, and successes can help you reframe your beliefs and regain control.

Breaking free from negative thought patterns can be a difficult journey, but the rewards are often worth the effort. By practicing these techniques and understanding the power of negative thinking, you can take control of your life. 

Developing a positive mindset

It can take time and practice to break free from negative thinking, but developing a positive mindset can be a great way to create lasting change.

A positive mindset is often focused on growth, resilience, and possibility. It can help us stay open-minded and optimistic, even in the face of difficulty. Research from the National Institute of Health shows that those with a positive outlook tend to experience increased levels of well-being and life satisfaction. They may even experience positive health benefits like lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease.

To start creating a positive mindset, setting small goals and focusing on building healthy habits can be a great place to start. In addition, celebrating small victories can help us stay motivated and remind us that we can achieve our goals.

Some additional tips for cultivating a positive mindset include:

  • Practicing gratitude: Taking time to appreciate the good things in life can help us focus on what's important and foster feelings of appreciation.

  • Practicing self-care and self-compassion:  Taking care of our physical and mental health needs can help us stay energized, focused, and positive.

  • Focusing on solutions: Rather than dwelling on problems, we can reframe difficulty as an opportunity to explore different solutions.

  • Learning to accept yourself: Embracing our unique strengths and weaknesses can help us build self-confidence and focus on what matters most to us.

Creating a positive mindset is typically an ongoing process. Even small changes can have a significant impact and help us create a healthier, more positive life. By understanding the power of negative thoughts and developing the right strategies and mindset, you may be able to make positive changes in your life.

Learn to identify and counter unhelpful thought patterns

How therapy can help

If you are experiencing negative thoughts, it may be helpful to reach out for support. Online therapy can provide a convenient way to talk to a mental health professional. With the proper guidance, you can learn strategies for combatting negative thoughts and making changes that may lead to a more peaceful mind and improved happiness and well-being.

In a medically reviewed study of more than 300 participants, online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was shown to be effective in treating several mental health conditions, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This therapy may help you become more aware of your cognitive distortions and provide strategies and resources for challenging them. Because depression and anxiety often go together with negative thoughts, CBT may be especially helpful in managing these mental health conditions.


Negative thinking can be a powerful force in our lives, and it can have a negative impact on our mental health and well-being. If left unchecked, negative thoughts can take a toll on our physical health, relationships, and daily functioning. However, there are strategies you can use to challenge these thoughts and reframe them in more positive ways.

Developing a positive mindset and reaching out for support can be effective ways of combatting negative thinking. You may learn to approach life with optimism and improved well-being through these practices. Online therapy can complement these strategies by providing additional guidance and personalized strategies for challenging negative thinking. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people overcome negative thinking patterns. Take the first step toward getting support with negative thinking and contact BetterHelp today.

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