At some point, you have likely experienced spiraling thoughts. Spiraling thoughts tend to be when we are experiencing anxiety, having negative thoughts, ruminating on an idea/emotion, or have thoughts that lead us down a rabbit hole of “what-if” scenarios or worst case possibilities. Although these thoughts may initially surface to make us want to feel prepared or acknowledge an emotion (i.e. anxiety) that we are experiencing, these thoughts are no longer supportive when they start to spiral. And even though you want to stop them, you seem to always find yourself spiraling over and over and different times during the day. So read below for tips on how to stop spiraling thoughts to get your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors on the right track.
What triggers your spiraling thoughts? Is this when you experience a certain emotion? Is it primarily around one situation or continued events that keep surfacing? Before you can stop your spiraling thoughts, you have to notice when these thoughts start to arise.
Start by reflecting back on recent moments in which your thoughts were spiraling. What was happening in these situations? Consider what were the initial thoughts you had? And, what were the emotion(s) that you were experiencing? Additionally, next time you notice your thoughts spiraling, bring yourself to the present moment by asking yourself what triggered this? The immediacy to the situation will help you build awareness of the triggers.
2. Structure Your Thoughts
After you have identified when your thoughts start to spiral, take charge of these thoughts by starting to structure how you think about them. Don’t continue letting your thoughts spiral in their typical fashion. Structure them by setting a time limit and write your thoughts out to avoid letting them ruminate in your mind. Now, you’re likely thinking, “easier said than done”. Although this is true, this is a habit and practice that can be done.
When these thoughts start to show up, allow yourself to think about them for 10-15 minutes. These thoughts are arising for a reason and we don’t want to avoid them entirely. Use a journal to write these thoughts out for this 10-15 minutes. This allows you to process your thoughts differently opposed to letting them solely stay in your mind.
After you have set a structure to your thoughts, it is important to identify what the thoughts are trying to tell you. When you let your thoughts spiral, you are never able to actually identify what your thoughts are trying to tell you. This is because they lead to what-ifs and worst case scenarios and ultimately, the thoughts become unrealistic. So, now that you have caught your thoughts in the beginning phases, ask yourself why they are showing-up.
Are you feeling unprepared for a situation? If so, what would help you feel more prepared? What do those steps look like? If your thoughts are showing up because you feel a lack of control, ask yourself what is within your control? And, how you can affirm yourself that you have done what you could? Or, if your thoughts are showing up because you are feeling negative/down lately, what can you start doing to take care of yourself? What are the first steps to creating change?
4. Ask Yourself What Is True
When you first stop your spiraling thoughts, it is likely that you will notice that the thoughts that lead to spiraling, were untrue. This could be that your thoughts led you to having to predict future outcomes or feeling worrisome about things that are out of your control. When you identify this happening, ask yourself what you know to be true about the present moment. This helps you feel control over what is happening currently opposed to what could possibly happen in the future. Take situations one step at a time by identifying what is happening in the present, what actions/steps you can take in the present, and reminding yourself that the present is all you can control currently.
Once you stop spiraling thoughts, make sure to positively affirm yourself for doing so! The above steps are not easy by any means, and any efforts that you make to stop spiraling thoughts are steps in the right direction. Give yourself positive affirmations to feel more positive about yourself and to remind yourself that these steps are working to build new habits- meaning, it may not be 100% successful the first time. However, you can get there with continued efforts!
Are you ready to STOP spiraling thoughts? If so, start applying the above tips. Start by noticing when the thoughts start to happen, structure your thoughts to disrupt the spiral, identify what your thoughts are trying to tell you initially, ask yourself what is true, and be kind to yourself by giving yourself positive affirmations.
About the Author
Amanda Cummins is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family