How To Overcome Negative Thoughts And Emotions

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Books have been written about the power of positive thinking.  But the flip side of that, unfortunately, is also true in its own way: negative thinking can be powerful in its own destructive fashion. It can draw up unwanted memories and distressing flashbacks as well as generate a variety of upsetting emotions.

A woman smelling a flower

Fortunately, there are many ways to cope with negative thinking. “You can use grounding techniques to help create space from distressing feelings in nearly any situation,” according to an article in Healthline, “but they’re especially helpful if you’re dealing with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, self-harm urges, traumatic memories, substance use disorder.”

The techniques fall into three basic categories: physical, mental and soothing techniques.

Examples of the physical include:

  • Holding a piece of ice. “What does it feel like at first? How long does it take to start melting? How does the sensation change when the ice begins to melt?”
  • Savoring a scent: “Is there a fragrance that appeals to you? This might be a cup of tea, an herb or spice, a favorite soap, or a scented candle. Inhale the fragrance slowly and deeply and try to note its qualities (sweet, spicy, sharp, citrusy, and so on).
  • Trying the 5-4-3-2-1 method. “Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you hear, then four things you see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.”

Examples of mental techniques include:

  • Thinking in categories: “Choose one or two broad categories, such as ‘musical instruments, ‘ice cream flavors,’ ‘mammals,’ or ‘baseball teams.’ Take a minute or two to mentally list as many things from each category as you can.”
  • Visualizing a pleasant daily task: “If you like doing laundry, for example, think about how you’d put away a finished load. The clothes feel warm coming out of the dryer. They’re soft and a little stiff at the same time. They feel light in the basket, even though they spill over the top. I’m spreading them out over the bed so they won’t wrinkle. I’m folding the towels first, shaking them out before folding them into halves, then thirds,’ and so on.”

Examples of soothing techniques include:

  • Picturing someone you love: “If you feel upset or distressed, visualize someone positive in your life. Imagine their face or think of what their voice sounds like. Imagine them telling you that the moment is tough, but that you’ll get through it.”
  • Touching something comforting: “This could be your favorite blanket, a much-loved T-shirt, a smooth stone, a soft carpet, or anything that feels good to touch. Think about how it feels under your fingers or in your hand. If you have a favorite sweater, scarf, or pair of socks, put them on and spend a moment thinking about the sensation of the fabric on your skin.”

All of these grounding techniques have one thing in common: they bring you into the present moment. Much distress is caused by being caught in an unpleasant past moment or experience. Mindfulness and these grounding techniques are all intended to help you be in the present, which is a sure path to easing anxiety and creating a calm state of mind. See Healthline’s complete list of 30 grounding techniques here.