Stop Negative Thoughts: Choosing a Healthier Way of Thinking

Topic Overview

What is healthy thinking?

Healthy thinking can teach you to know what thoughts of yours—both helpful and not helpful—affect problems or feelings that trouble you. With practice, you can learn to use accurate thoughts that encourage you instead of negative thoughts that discourage you.

If you stop negative thoughts, you may be more able to care for yourself and handle life's challenges. You will feel better. And you may be more able to avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, sleep problems, unwanted weight gain, or depression.

Healthy thinking also involves calming your mind and body. You can use one or more techniques. These may include meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy, also called CBT, is a therapy that is often used to help people think in a healthy way. It focuses on thought (cognitive) and action (behavioural). Many people work with a therapist or a counsellor to learn CBT. But you also can practice healthy thinking on your own.

How does CBT help you think in a healthy way?

CBT involves techniques that you can practice every day so that healthy thinking comes naturally. For example: Maybe you're upset about a job review at work. Your boss praised several things about your work. But you're feeling down because she had one small criticism. You might even think, "I'm no good at my job." or "She doesn't like me. I must be bad."

Focusing on only the bad is an example of negative or distorted thinking. You can teach yourself to watch for negative thinking. You can ask yourself how true or helpful your thoughts were. "What did my boss say exactly?" "Were there positive comments?" "Why do I focus only on one criticism?"

You can learn to see that the harsh things you say to yourself may keep you from noticing the positive parts of your life and work. With time and practice, you can learn to tell yourself more accurate and helpful statements. You might say, "I've done a lot of good work this year, and my boss noticed it. She thought there was one area I can improve. So I'll think of some things I can do to get stronger in that area."

CBT combines several ways to help you change how you think:

  • You learn to notice irrational thoughts about yourself.
  • You learn to stop the thoughts.
  • You learn to replace the negative thoughts with accurate thoughts.
  • You can learn to relax your mind and body. This can lower your stress.
  • You can learn to manage your time better. This also can lower your stress.

Although you can use CBT on your own, it's important to talk to your doctor or a counsellor if you have symptoms of depression or feel that your mood is getting worse.

How can you get started doing CBT on your own?

Learn to stop discouraging yourself with negative thoughts:

Stop Negative Thoughts: Getting Started

Learn how to use healthy thinking to prevent or treat some health problems:

Weight Management: Stop Negative Thoughts
Anxiety: Stop Negative Thoughts
Depression: Stop Negative Thoughts

Learn how to lower your stress:

Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Stress Management: Managing Your Time
Stress Management: Reducing Stress by Being Assertive
Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery to Relax
Stress Management: Doing Meditation
Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax

How can a counsellor help with CBT? How do you find one?

If you work with a counsellor or a therapist, he or she can coach you to do CBT methods on your own.

There is no special license to show that a counsellor has trained in CBT. You need to ask about a counsellor's knowledge of CBT.

Try to find two or three counsellors who have experience with CBT. Ask your doctor and family or close friends if they can recommend someone. Counsellors may have a doctorate (a Ph.D.) in psychology or a master's degree in social work or counselling.

You can call the counsellors for a brief phone interview. Ask them if they have training in CBT and if they use it often.

Pick the counsellor you feel most comfortable with.

For more information on related health topics, see:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder.
Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder.
Stress Management.
Managing Job Stress.
Weight Management.


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health

Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Sue Barton, PhD, PsyD - Behavioral Health

Current as ofNovember 14, 2014