From Stress to Success. How to end negative thought loops


While stress is a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it shifts from being a motivating force to a debilitating one. Prolonged or intense stress can lead, among others, to anxiety, where the body and mind remain in a state of heightened alertness even in the absence of immediate threats. This kind of sustained stress response can disrupt nearly every system in the body. May, being Mental Health Awareness Month, provides an extra opportunity to reflect on the impact of stress and how it relates to anxiety, as well as explore practical strategies that help end negative thought loops. Having said that, I believe that it’s essential to understand that managing stress isn’t just about dealing with the immediate symptoms but also about recognizing when it may be contributing to more significant issues like anxiety disorders. By learning to choose our responses to stress carefully – focusing on positive, empowering thoughts – we can protect our mental health and prevent the escalation of stress into anxiety. A helpful tool in this process is called a “thought loop”, or a “looping thought”.

Chronic stress can impact mental and physical health

In May, the month of Mental Health Awareness, let’s talk about our health and the impact of prolonged stress on it. Chronic stress can significantly impact mental and physical health. Besides anxiety disorders, over time, it can also lead to psychological issues such as depression, and cognitive impairments, affecting memory and decision-making abilities. Physically, it may cause sleep disturbances, headaches, and worsen existing health conditions. Behaviorally, prolonged stress can result in emotional exhaustion, increased irritability, and unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. Understanding and managing stress through strategies like mindfulness, looping thoughts, regular exercise, and seeking professional help is crucial for maintaining overall well-being and preventing these detrimental effects.

What are Looping Thoughts?

Have you ever noticed how a single thought can spiral into a full-blown narrative in your mind? This is the power of looping thoughts. It’s essential to understand how our thoughts control our emotions, and subsequently, our actions (and events in our life!). A negative thought can set off a chain reaction: it creates a negative feeling, which then influences us to act in a negative way. This behavior reinforces the original negative thought, creating a self-perpetuating loop that can be hard to break.

Conversely, a positive thought can trigger a positive feeling, leading to positive behavior. This positive behavior then strengthens the positive thought, forming a beneficial loop. By recognizing these patterns, we can actively choose which thoughts to nurture and which to let go, steering our emotional and behavioral responses toward more positive outcomes.

How to end negative thought loops

Here’s a deeper dive into how you can actively manage and transform these thought loops:

  1. Identify the Looping Thought – Start by recognizing the negative thought that is looping in your mind. This could be something like, “I’m not good enough to handle this,” or “I always mess things up.”
  2. Challenge the Thought – Once you identify it, challenge its validity. Ask yourself questions like, “Is this really true?” or “What evidence do I have to support this thought?” Often, these thoughts are based on feelings rather than facts.
  3. Change the Thought – Replace the negative thought with a more balanced or positive one. Instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” you could think, “I have handled similar situations before, and I can use those strategies again.”
  4. Feel the Difference – Changing your thoughts will change how you feel. By thinking more positively, you’ll likely feel less anxious and more confident.
  5. Act on It – With a new feeling of confidence or calm, you’ll behave differently. You might take on a challenge you would have avoided or handle a stressful situation more effectively.
  6. Reinforce the Positive Outcome – When you act based on positive thoughts and achieve a good outcome, it reinforces the new belief in your abilities. This success encourages you to continue using this strategy.
  7. Repeat – The more you practice this method, the more natural it will become. Over time, you can shift your default thinking pattern from negative to more positive and constructive.


n light of William James’ insightful quote:

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”,

I’ve found the technique of managing looping thoughts to be an important tool in my practice. It directly taps into our capacity to control our mental narrative, turning a potentially negative loop into a positive one. As my trainer says “Your thoughts are yours to change”. What a liberating truth it is!

If you are looking for techniques that would help you end negative thought loops, you may want to start using the above described tool. In my experience, this technique can be incredibly powerful for managing stress and anxiety. I exercise it with almost all my clients, as it empowers them to actively reshape their thinking patterns. By consciously choosing their thoughts, clients learn to disrupt negative cycles that lead to anxiety and stress, replacing them with positive affirmations that foster emotional resilience and well-being. Even small shifts in thought can lead to significant changes in our emotional and behavioral responses.

Remember, it’s not stress that’s the enemy, but how we handle it. Take time this month to explore stress management techniques and mindsets that promote resilience. Your mental wellness is worth that investment!

About the author

Psychologist, RTT Therapist trained by world-class therapist Marisa Peer, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Mindfulness Coach

Result-oriented therapist, focused on treating the root cause of an issue, resilient mindset shifts, reprogramming subconscious beliefs and building lifelong habits that support your transformation

Here to help if you are motivated to take charge of your life, committed to your transformation, value your time and are looking for fast results that stick after as little as 1 – 3 sessions

Offering powerful therapy online and in person, based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, happy to work with non-native speakers and expat communities, in English or Polish

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