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How to break the negative thinking loop

Worry is a normal human emotion. That’s because the feeling that we know as worry is something we’ve evolved with. Worry can keep us alert, help us remember things, and make us aware of dangers.

Worrying is not a pleasant feeling. However, it’s normal to worry because it serves a useful purpose.


Worry VS anxiety

Worrying every now and then is normal. When we worry it’s usually because of how we feel about a stressful situation. Once that situation passes, those feelings of stress and worry tend to go away.

Some people, however, experience cycles of constant worry and stress. It can reach a point where those strong feelings remain, even after the stressful situation has passed. At these times, it can feel as if your mind is stuck in a ‘loop’ of negative thoughts.

Continuously worrying about more than just everyday concerns may be a sign of anxiety. It is actually quite common, with one in four people experiencing it in Australia.

Across northern, western and central Melbourne, anxiety is the second most common mental health diagnosis after depression.


Worrying all the time?

Constant, ongoing worry is not a nice feeling. However, you are definitely not alone.

Strong feelings of worry can sometimes start as a concern about something specific. For example, almost everyone at some point worries about money, relationships, their job, the kids, their health or any number of things.

For whatever reason, these concerns sometimes don’t pass. They might stay with you on the way to work, after you drop off the kids, on your way home or while you’re doing the dishes. The worry can become so intense for some people that it even affects their ability to get to sleep.

The reasons behind this happening are complex and varied. However, the way these thoughts play over in your mind, again and again, is sometimes called a “negative thinking loop”. Left unchecked, it can affect not only your mental health and wellbeing, but also your physical health.


Anxiety effects on mental and physical health

While the effects of stress and worry on mental health are well known, did you know that it can also affect your physical health?

Some of the ways in which constant worry can affect your mental health include:

  • Difficulty focussing.
  • Thoughts that seem irrational.
  • Mood feeling ‘down’ or ‘flat’.
  • Irritability and excessive frustration.
  • Feelings of anger or aggression (including towards loved ones or people who are close to you).
  • Feeling unmotivated or a lack of energy.
  • Losing interest in things you normally enjoy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or feelings of low self-esteem.
  • Ongoing doubts about your decisions and actions.
  • Wanting to get away from a situation or location.


The link between mental and physical health is widely known. Just some of the many short-term physical symptoms of stress and worry include:

  • Excessive perspiration (sweating).
  • Trembling (shaking).
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Blushing.
  • An upset stomach.
  • Muscle tightening or tenseness.
  • Difficulty speaking, stammering (stuttering), speaking too softly or speaking quickly.
  • Appetite changing, eating not enough or too much.
  • Trouble sleeping.


How to break the negative thinking loop

One way to reduce the stress of constant worry is to address the source of concern. Here are some techniques that can help how you feel when you’re caught in a cycle of continuous worry and concern.


Focus on the present

You could try breaking the cycle by controlling how you think about the situation.

The reason we often find we are ‘drowning’ in negative thoughts is that we’re actually unaware that we’ve slipped into it. A small thought can become an overwhelming and recurring thought before you know it.

If you realise that this has happened, the simple act of making yourself aware of what you’re feeling can be like a sudden wake-up call.

If you find yourself overthinking something and you realise it’s upsetting you, consider the following.

Firstly, take a moment to stop and think about your situation. Be aware of what’s going through your mind and tell yourself something like “I’m thinking about it again” or “I realise that I keep thinking the same thing”.

Secondly, take in what’s going on around you. Focus on the present and the things around you. This could be on the sunshine and weather, the road or footpath, music or background noise, or whatever else is going on around you. Being aware of the present could even be as simple as focusing on your footsteps or listening to the water in the shower.

Try and do this when you realise your mind is stuck in a negative thinking loop. It may not make those negative feelings disappear — but it can work towards improving how you feel about them.


Talk about it

Quite simply, talking can help you break away from repetitive negative thoughts.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a discussion with answers that will fix your situation (although the solution often comes unexpectedly as a result of talking about it). Rather, talking about it can help you see things in a new light.

One great way to go about this is to talk to a professional counsellor for free. CAREinMIND provides this service at no charge to people in northern, central and western Melbourne. The service is available 24/7.

Talking can also be beneficial for smaller worries and frustrations (someone at work was rude, the postal company screwed up your order, your train was delayed, etc.).

If you find you’re stewing about something small, try talking to someone about the footy, your weekend plans or your kids. While this won’t make your problems disappear, talking to someone about something simple or mundane can help take your mind off the repeating source of worry. Think of it as a mental ‘reset’ and in doing so, it can help break a negative thoughts cycle.


It’s quite normal

It’s important to remember that worry is a completely normal emotion. Similarly, many people experience anxiety.

You are definitely not the only person to feel this way. There is nothing shameful about it, either to you or your family. One of the best things you can do for your mental health and wellbeing is to talk about it.

Some people find it easy to talk about how they feel. Others need some help with expressing it. For example, some people might come from families where mental health has not traditionally been discussed.

A CAREinMIND counsellor can help talk you through your worries and concerns. Phone counselling in languages other than English is also an option through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS).


Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.