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Change your thinking and improve your mental health

Different things can affect your thoughts, including:

  • a financial situation
  • relationships
  • job stress
  • physical or medical issues
  • what's going on in the world
  • news
  • trauma
  • early life experiences

Any of these things can make you feel down.

They can also cause you to stop doing things that can make you feel better, such as:

  • eating well
  • sleeping well
  • being physically active
  • spending time with friends or family

You cannot always change the situation you're in. But you can control how you respond to it. An important part of that is changing your thinking.

Different kinds of thoughts

There are 3 kinds of thoughts:

  • automatic thoughts
  • assumptions
  • core beliefs

Automatic thoughts

This is when you are constantly thinking about things, all day long. These are automatic thoughts. There is no basic problem with these thoughts, unless they are almost always negative.


Assumptions are rules you live by. For example, "People should be nice to each other", or "I should be perfect". Assumptions are not always true.

Core beliefs

Core beliefs are statements you make and treat as facts, including:

  • I am…
  • others are…
  • the world is…

If a core belief is negative and unbalanced, it can cause you to have negative automatic thoughts more often.

Ways of thinking and negative emotions

Certain ways of thinking can make us feel negative about ourselves.

For example:

  • Catastrophising — thinking things are going to turn out in the worst possible way
  • Putting yourself down — thinking negative things about yourself, for example, "I’m such a loser…"
  • Black and white thinking — things are either only good or only bad, with nothing in between
  • Low frustration tolerance — for example, "I can’t bear this…"
  • Demands - thinking things such as "I have to do that…" or "I should have done that…" or "They should or shouldn't do that…"

These ways of thinking are rigid and can have a negative effect on you.

Overcoming rigid thinking

Rigid thinking is when you are unable to change your mind in response to different situations.

The best way to overcome rigid thinking is to challenge the assumptions and rules you have.

One of the best ways is asking yourself these 3 questions about what you’re thinking:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it true?

These 3 questions can help you examine the thoughts you are having.

They can help you see that:

  • another way of thinking is possible
  • this could be a way that benefits you, rather than hurts you or makes you feel bad

Changing your negative thoughts

Depending on the type of negative thoughts you have, there is a specific way to change them.

The first and most important steps are to:

  • understand that you are having a lot of negative thoughts
  • spot them when they happen


Avoid making making impossible demands on yourself and others. For example, instead of saying "I have to do this" you could say "It would be good for me to try to do this".

It may help you feel less angry, hurt or resentful when things do not go the way you want them to.


Things rarely turn out as badly as you imagine. Predicting disaster only creates anxiety. This can make you less able to cope if something bad actually does happen.

While most things that we catastrophise might be possible, there is often little chance of them actually happening.

Putting yourself down

Putting yourself down never makes you feel good. Anyone can make a mistake. It does not mean you’re a bad person.

Low frustration tolerance

Most people can bear most things if it’s in their interest to do so. Not liking something is very different from not being able to bear it.

There will always be things in life you do not like. Building tolerance for them is useful. You might not be always able to avoid or change them.

Learn to change your thoughts. It may not be easy, but it can definitely be done. With practice, you should find yourself feeling more positive on a daily basis.

Talking therapies

Organisations that provide mental health services

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025