Break negative thinking with these 6 mental health exercises

We’ve all been there, stuck in a cycle of negative thinking that we can’t seem to kick. Thinking exercises are a simple, free way to break negative thinking patterns and improve your mental health. You will change the way you perceive things and regain control with thinking exercises.

They can also help us to get our subconscious thoughts going in more productive and helpful directions over time, and will eventually completely eliminate these negative thought patterns. We’ve put together a list of the top six thinking exercises that improve mental health, and we’ll show you how to perform them.

Also learn which foods to eat to increase happiness and what color to paint your room for better mental health.

What is a thinking exercise?

Thinking exercises are new ways of thinking about a particular circumstance or experience that can help us break out of stuck or unhelpful thinking. While some thinking exercises have been studied extensively by psychological researchers, others are offered by psychologists and clinical mental health counselors because they have been useful for specific types of patients. Thinking exercises can be suggested by your therapistbe them online or in person.

It is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all thinking exercise. Feel free to try one of these for a few weeks and see if you like the way they affect your mental health and sense of well-being. If not, you can try a different one. Thinking exercises should be a method of seeing the world differently, not a medical treatment.

What are the mental health benefits of thinking exercises?

Reframing thoughts is one of the building blocks of cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been found to be effective in many studies.

  • A thinking exercise can help you stay calm during a stressful time and keep functioning, preventing a more serious reaction like an anxiety attack.
  • Thinking exercises can reduce the duration and intensity of anxiety symptoms, even when not combined with traditional therapy.
  • When paired with a mental health appthinking exercises can provide a record of growth and changes in mental health.
  • Thinking exercises can make us more aware of what triggers our anxiety, allowing us to make life modifications that help us to experience anxiety less often.

6 thinking exercises that will improve your mental health

The next time you’re feeling stressed, try one of these methods to help combat overwhelming feelings.

The self-observation exercise

Many spiritual traditions include some sort of self-observation or mindfulness exercise, but it is also useful in a completely non-spiritual context. When you start to experience the symptoms you associate with anxiety, you can use this exercise to get curious and learn more about what you’re going through. See how to do it:

1. When you’re feeling anxious and you have the opportunity to take a few minutes for yourself, do so. Move away from others so you won’t be interrupted, even for a few minutes.

two. Start by noticing the way each element of your body feels. Are you feeling anxiety in your shoulders, neck, stomach or head? Are you experiencing other symptoms such as fatigue or headache? Don’t judge the feelings, just observe them, as if you were observing a scientific experiment and needed to capture everything.

3. Then turn your self-observation to your thoughts. what are the specific stressors running through your mind? Try to catalog them instead of letting them overwhelm you. When you notice one, let it go, acknowledging that you “heard” it.

4. If you can focus fully on your bodily and mental sensations, you can calm yourself down by doing things like releasing muscles you’ve found to be tense or letting your thoughts go instead of intensely holding them. This may take a few tries.

The act of self-observation can be a way to get your mind out of anxiety and back into your body. When we’re in fight-or-flight mode, anxiety keeps us safe, but if we’re physically safe, this can be a way to assess our body and re-find our baseline.

low angle view of woman in yoga prayer pose

Self-observation exercises can help you stay in the present.

Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Keep a thought log

One of the ways people better understand their anxiety symptoms is by recording their thoughts. This can be done in a traditional paper journal, but there are other options, especially when it’s inconvenient to carry an extra notebook everywhere. The Thought Diary app is a simple interface allowing you to jot down your mood and any details about it. It also includes other thinking exercises, such as practicing gratitude and analyzing a thought.

Reviewing your thought log occasionally can help you make connections, including things like how sleep, exercise, and nutrition affect your anxiety symptoms.

Stop anxious thinking

Anxious thinking responds best to being distracted by a different task. These techniques are more about what effectively distracts you and less about a technically “right” method.

  • Try contracting and relaxing different muscles in your body, focusing on muscle activity and seeing if that can help you stop having anxious thoughts.
  • breathing with an intentional count, such as four counts in and four counts out.
  • Putting on music, an audiobook, or a radio show can interrupt anxious thoughts and make your mind focus on something else.
  • Saying out loud that you’ve stopped thinking this way or making verbal affirmations can help you get out of your head and hear a positive voice more clearly.
  • Picking a relaxing task that’s also mentally engaging: word games on the phone, loading a dishwasher, doing a yoga flow, or another set stretching routine can all be effective anxiety busters.
  • Counting backwards slowly sometimes works to stop the flow of anxiety.

Use cognitive defusion exercises

Cognitive defusion exercises are about getting an outside perspective on our thoughts or strategies that help us to separate and look more clearly at our thoughts. They are used frequently in CBT and other types of cognitive therapy.

  • Use a silly voice: Some people find it helpful to distance themselves from their thoughts by using a silly voice to say something like, “Oh, you think this is very worrying, don’t you?” or some other observation about the thought.
  • Leaves in a stream: Some people use the visualization that their thoughts are floating down a river, coming to them and then going away, as a way of seeing thoughts separate from their core identity.
  • Label your thoughts: Some people find it helpful to identify “that’s an anxious thought” or “that’s a scary thought” as they have the thoughts, helping to take them away from being an assessment of reality and treat them as separate items that don’t it has to be openly believed.
  • “Thank you mind”: When our minds tell us a warning in the form of an anxious thought, we can offer gratitude to our mind for trying to help and warn us.

practice self-compassion

Anxiety sometimes presents itself as an excessive worry about not being good enough or having negative traits. These thoughts, when repeated, can be demoralizing and make everyday activities miserable. One way to combat this negative self-talk is to practice self-compassion. While it may feel awkward at first, trying to view your current situation the way you would if a good friend were going through it can be a start. Give yourself the kind of comfort you would give a friend, rather than the stern criticism you might give yourself.

Another self-compassion exercise is to find and focus on a childhood photograph of yourself. Instead of directing your thoughts to your adult self, direct them to that child. Recognize that your adult self deserves the same kind of comfort that a child deserves, for you are still learning, albeit different things.

The Worry Tree

The Worry Tree is a tool designed for those who experience compulsive or continual worrying to help them make an informed decision between worrying or doing something else. It’s a customizable flowchart chart for the person, but it essentially starts by asking, “what exactly am I worried about?” then “Can I do something about it?” and “Can I do something about this now?” The tree guides people to put worries aside when nothing can be done, to make a clear plan if nothing can be done now, and to do something if there is something useful to be done about the worry now. This can help prevent rumination, where we think the same anxiety-inducing thoughts over and over without relief.

the bottom line

The thinking exercises may seem different from our typical ways of thinking, but if you remain curious, you might find your mind changing, experimenting with more methods of how to think positively over time. If you find that thinking exercises make your anxiety symptoms worse, you may have an ineffective thinking exercise for yourself, or your anxiety may respond better to treatment from a psychiatrist or counselor. Talking to a mental health professional is a good idea to get better answers about your specific situation.

More mental health advice

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

Break negative thinking with these 6 mental health exercises

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top