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Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started

Table of Contents


Introduction

Unwanted thoughts can make you feel anxious or depressed. They may keep you from enjoying your life.

A technique called thought-stopping can help you stop unwanted thoughts.


How can you stop thoughts?

To stop unwanted thoughts, you focus on the thought and then learn to say "Stop" to end the thought. At first, you will shout "Stop!" out loud. Then you will learn to say it in your mind so that you can use this technique anywhere. Here's how to get started:

  1. List your most stressful thoughts. These are the thoughts that distract you from your daily activities and make you worry more. You wish you could stop having these thoughts, but they keep occurring. Write down your upsetting thoughts in order of the most stressful to the least stressful. Start practicing thought-stopping with the thought that is the least stressful. Here's an example of a list, starting with the most stressful:
    • I'm always worried that something bad will happen to my child, even if she just gets a cold.
    • I just know that one of us is going to get laid off from work.
    • I'm so nervous about making a presentation at work that it's all I can think about.
  2. Imagine the thought. Sit or lie down in a private place (so you can say "Stop!" out loud and not feel self-conscious). Close your eyes. Imagine a situation in which you might have this stressful thought. Then allow yourself to focus on the thought.
  3. Stop the thought. Startling yourself is a good way to interrupt the thought. Try one of these two techniques:
    • Set a timer, watch, or other alarm for 3 minutes. Then focus on your unwanted thought. When the timer or alarm goes off, shout "Stop!" If you want, stand up when you say "Stop." Some people snap their fingers or clap their hands. These actions and saying "Stop" are cues to stop thinking. Empty your mind, and try to keep it empty for about 30 seconds. If the upsetting thought comes back during that time, shout "Stop!" again.
    • Instead of using a timer, you can tape-record yourself shouting "Stop!" at intervals of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Do the thought-stopping exercise. Focus on the thought, and then stop thinking about the unwanted thought—or anything else—when you hear your recorded voice say "Stop." Hearing your own voice telling you to stop helps strengthen your commitment to getting rid of the unwanted thought.
  4. Practice steps 1 through 3 until the thought goes away on command. Then try the process again. This time, interrupt the thought by saying the word "Stop!" in a normal voice.
  5. After your normal voice is able to stop the thought, try whispering "Stop." Over time, you can just imagine hearing "Stop" inside your mind. At this point, you can stop the thought whenever and wherever it occurs.
  6. Pick another thought that bothers you more than the last one, and continue thought-stopping.

Other ways to stop thoughts

You can change how you do thought-stopping:

This new image or idea is not the same thing as replacing a negative thought with a helpful thought that is related to it. For more information on that method, see the topic Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking.

An example of thought-stopping

Here's an example of how thought-stopping might work:

You're worried about a presentation you are giving at work later in the day. You're prepared. You know you're ready. But you can't stop worrying about it. You imagine making a mistake.

When you start to think of yourself stumbling over words, you say "Stop" quietly in your mind. You get up and move around, or you snap your rubber band as you say "Stop." Then you think of something pleasant to take your mind off the thought—such as a trip you are planning to take or a movie you saw recently that made you laugh.


References

Other Works Consulted


Credits for Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started

Current as of: September 23, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health


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