Could you be stuck in a negative thought loop?

We all suffer from the occasional bout of negativity. But what happens when those thoughts start to consume your day to day? Here’s our guide to dealing with negative thoughts.

Written by Medibank

Sadness, negativity, anxiety; these feelings are just as much a part of life as feelings of happiness, excitement and positivity. Whilst they aren’t pleasant, negative emotions can be helpful. They can help us process difficult situations, take stock of our behaviours and act as useful alerts that something might not be right.

woman looking anxious on public transport

However, in some cases negative thoughts can start to outweigh positive emotions, or you can become stuck in a negative thought ‘loop’. Negative thought patterns can also accompany other mental health conditions, like depression and, anxiety or other disorders such as social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder can cause a negative thinking pattern that becomes automatic. This can make it hard to judge when your thoughts are rational or if you’re being unkind to yourself. 

Sarah Kewming, an accredited mental health and family violence social worker and therapist says that negative thinking can manifest in different ways. Some examples include:  

Black and white thinking: “this is pretty much what it sounds like,” says Sarah. “It’s when people are unable to see any grey areas in a situation and will view it as wholly negative or one sided.” 

Over generalisation: “this can manifest as catastrophising problems, feeling like something is the end of the world where to another person it wouldn’t seem that bad,” says Sarah.  

Jumping to conclusions: “we call this mind reading,” says Sarah. “People who are suffering from this kind of thinking will often believe they know what people are thinking about them even when that is proven not to be true.” 

Fortune telling: “we will sometimes see patients who are so convinced that they know what is going to happen that they’ll base all their behaviours around that perceived outcome,” says Sarah.  

Magnification and catastrophising: “this can manifest itself as overreactions to small problems or a spiralling of negative thoughts,” says Sarah. “It could start as spilling something on a carpet and instead of just cleaning it up, the person might start to believe that the entire carpet is contaminated by the spill and that this will go on to make them sick, which leads to anxiety and panic.” 

Emotional reasoning: “we often see this with people coming up with ways to justify why they are thinking in an irrational way,” says Sarah. “Coming up with reasons why you are sad and being unable to change that narrative or challenge that way of thinking can be a sign that it’s time to seek help.” 

Download your Medibank Better Minds App 

Want to manage your mental health on your own terms, in your own time? Medibank’s Better Minds app provides wellbeing checks, personalised skills training and one-on-one coaching with health professionals for anyone who may need extra support. And it’s all included with your hospital cover.€ Find out more

When do negative thought patterns become an issue?

We all experience negative thoughts, or negative thought patterns from time-to-time. It’s when they begin to affect your life that they become a problem; for example, you may be having trouble sleeping, connecting with friends and loved ones, or you find you no longer enjoy the things you used to.  

It’s also not uncommon for negative thought patterns to accompany other mental health issues, like anxiety or depression. 

If you’re not feeling yourself, speaking with your GP is a good starting point, or if you’re a Medibank member with hospital cover, you can call the 24/7 Medibank Mental Health Phone Support service to speak with a mental health professional. ~  

How to deal with negative thought patterns 

Recognising you are experiencing a negative thought pattern or loop can be difficult – it can be hard to see the wood through the trees, as they say. But once you recognise a negative thought pattern, there are some things you can try to change your thinking.  

Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. And it can help you focus on what’s happening, rather than on the negative thoughts racing through your head. It can also help you recognise negative thoughts as ‘thoughts’ rather than reality. 

It doesn’t have to be meditation – it can be focusing on the sensations and sounds as you take a walk in nature, or relishing every mouthful of your morning coffee. 

Read our beginners guide to mindfulness here

Challenge your thoughts

If you have recognised a negative thought pattern, challenging it can help. Asking yourself are these thoughts actually true? Is there something else going on my life that is making me think this way? It can also help to think about what you would say to someone else experiencing these thoughts. Try to treat yourself with the same kindness and patience as you would a good friend. 

Try the Better Minds App 

The Medibank Better Minds App is an evidence-based app that helps to understand your feelings, and reduce stress. The app curates strategies and skills to help with your mental health, like retraining unhelpful thoughts, and provides one-on-one confidential coaching sessions for those who need it. If you’re a Medibank member, it’s all included with your Medibank hospital cover.

Speak with a professional 

There are many different options for treating negative thought patterns. Talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are some of the most common.  

“We often see people who are profoundly depressed, anxious or have very repetitive behaviours that start to realise that this doesn’t have to be their narrative,” says Sarah. “When people see how capable they are and that they can achieve the goals we set in therapy you see an amazing shift in what they are able to do and how they think about themselves.”

If you’re interested in using talking therapies, you should consider seeing a mental health professional who specialises in these, for example a psychologist, or mental health social worker. 

Read more about finding the right mental health professional for you

Need a little extra support?

24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover~ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

No waiting periods on psychology and counselling consultations

You shouldn’t have to wait for your health insurance to claim for mental health support. That’s why there are no waiting periods for counselling and psychology consultations on Medibank extras and packaged products.§

Read more about using your cover

Telehealth services

Access mental health services from the comfort of your own home. Medibank members with eligible extras can access psychology or counselling consultations face-to-face or through telehealth, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

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Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

Not available for members with extras only cover, Overseas Student Health Cover or Overseas Workers or Visitors Health Cover.

# Check your cover summary to see if these services are included on your extras cover and if annual limits apply.  Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

§ For members with mental health support included in their Extras cover. Annual limits apply. Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).