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Change your thinking and improve your mental health

Many different types of influences can affect your thoughts.

These can include:

  • financial situation
  • relationships
  • job stress
  • physical circumstances
  • what's going on in the world
  • news
  • trauma
  • early life experiences
  • positive experiences

Experiencing any of these can lead you to feel down or depressed.

As a result, we can neglect to do things that make us feel better. We may not eat properly, sleep well, exercise or even see friends or family. Not doing these things makes us feel worse, and a downward-cycle can begin.

We can’t always control our environment, but we can control our thoughts and how we react to our environment. It may seem like you have no control over your own thoughts. But that’s not true. You have a lot more control than you would imagine.

Different kinds of thoughts

There are 3 kinds of thoughts: automatic, assumptions and core beliefs.

Automatic thoughts

We 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 the rules that we live by. They involve conditional statements or demand statements. For example: ‘People should be nice to each other’, ‘I should be perfect’. They are restrictive and not always true.

Core beliefs

These are strong, absolute statements we make, that we take as fact. They include:

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

If our core beliefs are very negative and unbalanced they can contribute to having more frequent negative automatic thoughts.

Ways of thinking that contribute to negative emotions

Here are the different ways of thinking that can make us feel negative about ourselves:

  • demands: ‘I have to do that…’ or ‘I should have done that…’ or ‘They should or shouldn’t do that…’
  • catastrophising: thinking things are going to turn out in the worst possible way
  • self-downing: 'I’m such a loser…'
  • low frustration tolerance: 'I can’t bear this…'
  • black and white thinking: things are either exclusively good or bad and nothing in between

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

Overcoming rigid thinking

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:

  1. Does it make sense?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it true?

These 3 questions can help you to examine the thoughts you are having. They can help you to see that you could be thinking in a different way. It 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 are having, there is a specific way to turn them around.

The first and most important steps are:

  • to have an awareness that you are having a lot of negative thoughts
  • to spot them when they happen


Relabelling a demand as a desire – from ‘I have to do this’ to ‘It would be good for me to try to do this’ – can help. It may help us to feel less angry, hurt or resentful when things don’t go the way we want them to.


Remember that things rarely turn out as badly as we imagine. Predicting disaster only creates anxiety. This can make us less able to cope if something bad actually does happen. While most things that we catastrophize might be possible, the chances of them happening are actually really low.


Putting yourself down never makes you feel good. Anyone can make a mistake. It doesn’t 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 we don’t like. Building our tolerance for them is useful. You might not be always able to avoid or change them.

Learn to change your thoughts. It isn't easy but is definitely doable. With practice, you should find yourself feeling more positive on a daily basis.

page last reviewed: 01/10/2018
next review due: 01/10/2021