6 Tips to Change Negative Thinking

Negative thinking contributes to anxiety in social and performance situations. Most therapies for social anxiety involve an aspect dedicated to changing negative thought patterns into more helpful and positive ways of looking at situations.

The key to changing your negative thoughts is to understand how you think now (and the problems that result) and then use strategies to change thoughts or make them have less effect. Usually, these steps are carried out with a therapist, but they can also be used as part of a ​self-help effort toward overcoming social anxiety.


Understand Your Thinking Style

Avoid thinking in absolute terms to reduce social anxiety.
Black and white thinking can cause social anxiety. Stone/Tara Moore/Getty Images

One of the first steps toward changing your negative thinking patterns is understanding exactly how you think right now. For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in "black-and-white" thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, and overgeneralization.

Unhelpful thinking patterns differ in subtle ways. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.


Learn How to Stop Thinking Negatively

Change your negative thoughts to fight social anxiety.
CBT for social anxiety can help turn negative thoughts around. The Image Bank/Loubie Lou/Getty Images

One of the basic parts of a treatment plan involving cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring. This process helps you to identify and change negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses.

Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process whereby negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced. Although it is difficult to think with this new style at first, over time and with practice, positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares an effective way to help you curb negative thinking.


Practice Coping With Criticism

Socially anxious people need to work on assertiveness skills.
You can learn to defend yourself if you have social anxiety. Hero Images/Getty Images

In addition to cognitive restructuring, another aspect of CBT that is sometimes helpful involves something known as the "assertive defense of the self." Since it is possible that some of the time, people will actually be critical and judgmental toward you, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection and criticism.

This process is usually conducted in therapy with a pretend conversation between you and your therapist to build up your assertiveness skills and assertive responses to criticism. These skills are then transferred to the real world through homework assignments.


Practice Mindfulness

Use mindfulness to reduce social anxiety.
Mindfulness can help to reduce social anxiety. Gwin Photography/Getty Images

Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. It is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer.

During mindfulness training, you will learn how to view your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or let pass you by. The objective of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by allowing the thinking part of your brain to take over.


Avoid Thought Stopping

Don't try to control your negative thoughts if you have social anxiety.
Trying to stop negative thoughts will only make social anxiety worse. Rafael Elias/Getty Images

Thought stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they be eliminated.

The problem with thought stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts, the more they will surface. Mindfulness is preferable because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you. Thought stopping might seem to help in the short term, but over time, it leads to more anxiety.


Use a Thought Diary

Use a thought diary to capture your social anxiety on a daily basis.
A thought diary can be used to record your daily thoughts about social anxiety. Westend61/Getty Images

Thought diaries, also called thought records, can be used as part of any process to change negative thinking. Thought diaries help you identify negative thinking styles and gain a better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions. Most CBT treatment plans will involve the use of a thought diary as part of regular homework assignments.

For example, a thought diary entry might break down the thought process of a person on a date, and the emotional and physical reactions that result from negative thinking patterns. By the end of the thought analysis, you can replace irrational thoughts about rejection with more helpful and positive ways of thinking.

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it's impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share the thoughts you have with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue.

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