Some things

​to think about


It’s a perfectly normal day. You’re driving to work or to dropping the kids at school, maybe even going to the gym. Nothing is particularly bothersome.

And then your brain, being the busy body that it is, decides to plant a seed.

Something like, “what if the brakes failed right now?” Or perhaps something less catastrophic and more critical like, “why am I such a loser that I can’t even be on time?” Maybe it just sends up a flare that ignites the “oh gosh, I have a deadline in 3 days” worry.

Once it grabs your attention, that negative thought takes hold of your whole thought process, maybe even changes your whole mood. It can trigger anxiety, affect sleep, impact relationships, and sap your productivity. It’s a ride no one wants to be on.

So, how do you break the cycle?

“Understanding why you get stuck in these loops is the first step to getting out of them,” said Mottsin Thomas, a psychiatrist at bonmente. “Thought loops are your brain’s way of trying to get to an egosyntonic state, meaning your mind is trying to confirm deep-seated beliefs, fears, or insecurities that you have — even if they’re unfounded.”

Understanding why you get stuck in these loops is the first step to getting out of them.

By giving the intrusive thought attention, you are trying to work through it. But that’s the trap. What you really do is solidify the loop. 

Here are some tips for breaking the loop. 

1. Come back to the present.

When your mind takes off on its own imaginary journey, reign it in by deliberately focusing on the moment. What sounds are you hearing? What smells do you notice? What does that license plate in front of you look like? Is there wind? How would you describe the shirt you are wearing right now? Put your attention anywhere else, and the most readily available, innocuous place is typically the minute you’re in.

2. Be curious about the thought.

When an intrusive thought loop hijacks your focus, the natural inclination is to provide a counter to the unwanted suggestion, or a strategy to manage it, even if it is unlikely or untrue. Say you’re getting ready for a social outing and you brain sneaks in with, “I bet you’re going to say something stupid to embarrass yourself.”
Your next thought will most likely be about some strategy to avoid embarrassing yourself. If you want to avoid the thought loop, make the next thing you ponder the thought itself.
  • Is the thought serving you? 
  • Is it harming you?
  • What’s the purpose of the thought?
  • Is it true? Absolutely true?
  • Who would you be without the thought?
  • How would you feel without the thought?

3. Prepare for the next one. 

According to a study published in the journal Science, nearly half of our waking lives are spent thinking about something other than what we’re doing. Every time our mind wanders, it gives intrusive negative thoughts an opportunity. Expect it to happen again and again, and make a plan to deal with it when it does. Refine your approach as you learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

If thought loops are out of your control, remember there is help. 

The best way to break intrusive thought loops is through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to identify core beliefs that trigger these types of  automatic thoughts. By challenging those core beliefs with professional guidance, you learn to manage the intrusiveness and decrease the distress the thoughts cause. 

bonmente can help you break the cycle of negative thought loops and keep anxiety from spiraling. Schedule an appointment with our mental health providers today.