How thoughts affect your mental health

Thoughts can affect your mental health in both positive and negative ways. In my previous post, I explained what thoughts are. In this article, I want to discuss their impact on your mental health and how you can help yourself if your thoughts negatively impact your mental health.

What type of thoughts affects mental health?

Negative thoughts

Thinking traps or cognitive distortions are typical negative thought patterns that can negatively affect mental health. Examples of thinking traps include:

  • Catastrophising, which is expecting failure or disaster in the future.
  • Predicting that situations will turn out badly.
  • Dwelling on past mistakes and failures.

These thought patterns can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where the pessimistic vision of the future affects your ability to achieve positive outcomes.

What are the signs of a negative thinking trap?

  1. Overgeneralising: Making sweeping generalisations and using absolutes such as “always” or “never.”
  2. Black and White Thinking: Seeing things as either right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or terrible.
  3. Labelling: Describing yourself or others in negative terms.
  4. Mind Reading: Jumping to conclusions about what someone else is thinking without any evidence.
  5. Fortune-telling: Predicting that something bad will happen without any evidence.
  6. Mental Filter: Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation and ignoring any positives.
  7. Emotional Reasoning: Believing that bad feelings or emotions reflect the reality of a situation.
  8. Discounting the Positives: Believing that positive things happen to you don’t count.
  9. ‘Should’ Statements: Telling yourself how you “should” or “must” be, act or feel.

Other negative thoughts affecting mental health include fear of the future, anxiety about the present, and shame about the past. Fear of the future can lead to insecurity and an inability to cope with change. In contrast, anxiety about the present can lead to a fear of losing control. Shame about the past can lead to low self-worth and an inability to move past mistakes. These negative thoughts can be symptoms of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, chronic worry, and OCD.

Blaming thoughts

Blaming thoughts attribute fault or responsibility to someone or something rather than looking at the situation objectively and being able to see the bigger picture. Accusing thoughts harm your mental health because they can lead to guilt, shame, low self-worth, anger, resentment, and bitterness towards the person or thing being blamed.

Blaming thoughts can also lead to a self-destructive cycle of rumination and negative thinking, further eroding your mental health.

When in session with a client, I always use this example to explain why not being able to let go of blame only hurts you. There are two kinds of people, one who blames and one who can let go. Both got divorced 15 years ago. The first person still blames his partner for ruining his life and is filled with anger and resentment towards her daily. The second has moved on, rarely thinks of their ex and is out leading their life.

Obsessive thoughts

Obsessive thoughts are recurrent and persistent thoughts that can be intrusive, unwanted, and difficult to control. They can range from mild to severe and can be symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, OCD, and depression.

Obsessive thoughts often have a distinct character. They can be accompanied by intense feelings of fear and dread and strong feelings of guilt. They tend to be repetitive and circular, meaning they can often return to the same idea or thought repeatedly. People with these thoughts may experience difficulty concentrating on other tasks. They may try to suppress or push away these thoughts, which often results in increased distress.

Obsessive thoughts can also differ in terms of content. Common themes include hatred, violence, or sexual content. People with OCD may have obsessive thoughts about contamination, order, or perfectionism. People who are experiencing depression may have obsessive thoughts of worthlessness or hopelessness.
Regardless of the content of the obsessive thought, it can significantly impact mental health. People who experience these thoughts may be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.

How to identify and replace negative thinking patterns to improve mental health?

  1. Start by recognising when negative thoughts arise. Take note of how often you criticise yourself, how often you compare yourself negatively to others, and how frequently you attribute bad outcomes to yourself. 
  2. Identify the thinking traps. Are you catastrophising or making conclusions without evidence? Are you minimising all the good things in your life or using all-or-nothing thinking?
  3.  Challenge the negative thought. Take a minute to question the thought and come up with a more balanced perspective. Ask yourself if they are true or just a result of self-defeating beliefs.
  4. Reframe it. Find a different way of viewing the same situation.
  5. Replace the negative thought with a pleasant or productive thought. Pre-plan a thought that you can use to replace the negative one. This could be phrases such as “I am capable” or “I can do this.”
  6. Journal the negative thoughts. Write down the thought, then write down why you believe you have that thought and any word associations you might have.
  7. Exercise and meditate. Spend time engaging in physical activity and practice breathwork and mindfulness exercises.
  8. Ask yourself questions. Take a few moments to pause and check in with your thoughts. Ask yourself questions like: “If a close friend or someone I loved was thinking this way, what would I tell them?”, “Next year, will I see things differently?”, “Are the things I’m jumping to conclusions about justified by the evidence?” and “What am I ignoring about the strengths or positives in me and how I’m coping at the moment?”.


Let’s say you feel inadequate and believe others only accept you when you’re perfect and accomplished. To replace this negative thought pattern, you can start by recognising when it arises. Notice how often you criticise yourself and attribute bad outcomes to yourself. Then, analyse where this thought pattern comes from and what triggers it. Once you have identified it, disrupt it by challenging the thought or distracting yourself. Then, replace it with a more positive thought, such as “I am worthy” or “I am capable.” Finally, take some time to journal your thoughts and find the beauty in the world by engaging in activities you enjoy and spending time with people you love. Finally, take a break from the news and social media and practice exercises like yoga and meditation to help you stay mentally healthy.

Try to see things from different perspectives.

We can better manage our negative thoughts by seeing things from different perspectives. We can challenge our thinking traps and distorted thinking patterns by gathering evidence and looking at the facts objectively. We can also use our five senses to focus our awareness on the present moment rather than being stuck in our thoughts. This helps create some distance between the thinker and their thoughts, allowing us to notice the difference between being stuck in our thoughts and experiencing the present moment. Taking a step back and labelling our thoughts can also help us to avoid getting stuck in negative thinking patterns. Using these strategies, we can break the cycle of negative thinking and create a more balanced and positive outlook.

Practice meditation

Meditation can help manage negative thoughts by changing our relationship with our thoughts. Rather than engaging with them, mindfulness helps us to observe our thoughts without judgment or attachment.

Practice acceptance

Practising acceptance can help manage negative thoughts by allowing us to take a step back and observe our thoughts and feelings. Rather than engaging with the thoughts, we can watch them objectively, allowing us to see them in a more balanced way and to form alternative, more balanced thoughts. This new perspective can help us to focus on the positive and remind us of our strengths, allowing us to foster self-acceptance and self-efficacy. Additionally, practising acceptance can help us identify and express our emotions safely and healthily and engage more constructively with our environment and those around us. Finally, practising positivity can influence how we choose to behave and lead us to experience better outcomes in our lives.

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