Challenge intrusive and negative thinking

Humans have the tendency to incline to emotionally negative events. It derives from an asymmetry in the way they process positive and negative information.1 Such negative thought processes affect the way they make sense of the world around them.

The tendency to dwell on negative stimuli is linked to evolutionary perspective where the brain tries to protect us from potential danger.2 This so-called “fight or flight” response goes hand in hand with attention. Attention may be blamed for such imbalance in positive and negative thought processes.3 Those who were more attentive to danger were more likely to survive.

Challenge intrusive and negative thinking

Negativity bias has already been observed in infancy. Some preliminary research on child development suggests that infants as young as three months old are likely to be more sensitive to information signaling danger.4/5  Evidence also derives from brain imaging studies. Negative events have been shown to elicit a larger brain response compared to positive events.6 Although it is no longer necessary to be on constant high alert as our ancestors in order to survive, the negativity bias still plays a crucial role in how our brain operates. This affects the way we think, feel and behave. This can result in upsetting thoughts that may enter our mind “uninvited.“7 The so called intrusive thoughts can have lasting consequences that may affect our well-being. 

Tips and recommendations

Almost everyone has experienced intrusive and negative thoughts. There are steps we can take to notice and cope with intrusive thoughts.8 The mind wanders across the day at different frequency and intensity.9 This implies that the brain constantly generates new thoughts. We may not always be aware of the thought processes in our mind of which some are intrusive. Thus, it is necessary to pause and reflect on how a current thought is making us feel. This is a process of observing ourselves and labeling our experiences. Our alarm response often labels intrusive thoughts as dangerous by making us experience feelings of anxiousness. It is critical to realize that we are in control of the thoughts that we engage in. By living in the present and concentrating on what is as opposed to what if,10 we have more control over the thoughts that we engage in and how they make us feel. If these steps are practiced regularly, the brain will be trained to be less susceptible to future intrusive thoughts.


Keeping a journal can profoundly improve your mood, well-being, physical and mental health.

In the process of writing you can:

  • Clear your mind, manage your stress, explore your feelings and fully integrate your experiences into your mind.1
  • Writing down your thoughts and feelings gives you a chance to create a structure. And there is one of the beneficial effects of writing - forming a coherent and emotional narrative regarding personal stressors.2 
  • Writing also helps you to regulate the emotional experiences3 and reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, eating disorder, schizophrenia or other mental illness.4/5

By writing you can improve your physical health, too. Daily writing about emotionally significant experiences can improve your immune system by reducing the chemicals that stress releases in your body,6 and it also improves your working memory.7 Journal is a great tool that gives you an opportunity to get to know yourself better, and see things in perspective.

Tips and recommendations

Your journaling will be most effective if you do it daily for about 20 minutes in private. Write what comes to your mind as it is coming. The journal is your all-accepting, nonjudgmental friend. It is helpful to focus on both your feelings and thoughts. You can try using statements like “I feel/ think/ need/ want…“ and also the present time. Some people may prefer using computers or writing apps on their smartphones, however it seems the best is using the pen. Buy yourself a journal and enjoy the time with yourself.

Mindfully engage, and disengage with electronics and technologies

Our world is becoming increasingly online, and engaging with technology is becoming part of everyday life for people of all ages. Novel interventions and technologies are applied with increasing intensity to improve lifestyle, prevent diseases associated with stress or to treat symptoms present in patients with physical or mental disorders.

Healthcare systems worldwide are utilising self-management interventions with the help of communication technologies that patients use in daily life. Interventions utilising internet, mobile phones, personal sensors, or stand-alone computer software have been effective in short-term (up to 1 year) improvements of lifestyle behaviours associated with diet, physical activity, obesity, and tobacco or alcohol use.1


Also psychological technology-based interventions showed positive effects. For example, online mindfulness-based techniques have a beneficial impact on depression, anxiety, well-being and stress.2  Moreover, telemedicine (electronic medical health records) and remote patient monitoring devices and sensors enable efficient chronic disease management.3

Nevertheless, both our motivation and positive attitude towards technologies is important to achieve significant and potentially long-term effects. Despite these indisputable benefits, potential risk factors associated with the use of new technologies should be always considered. We should use new technologies carefully, as the same technology can be both helpful and harmful.

Tips and recommendations

When possible, do not rely on new technologies in your everyday life. Use them wisely, only when needed. Dependency on digital technologies might affect our mental abilities (as suggested by Manfred Spitzer, author of the book titled “Digital dementia”). Moreover, excessive use of mobile devices and web-based technologies (such as social apps and interactive games) could potentially lead to addictive behaviour.5

  • Do not spend too much time online; better replace it with scheduled offline activities and face-to-face social interactions.
  • If this seems hard to achieve, determine your time online in advance to prevent excessive use.
  • Use external alerts that will help to remind you that the time to use the Internet has expired.
  • Limit the use of certain online applications that potentially facilitate addictive behavior, such as playing online games, visiting pornographic sites and using social webs and applications.
  • Most importantly, prevent the usage of electronic devices before sleep. Chronic exposure to blue light (emitted by mobile and computer devices) directly before bedtime may have serious implications on the quality of your sleep.6

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Self-care approaches

Practice positive self-talk

Self-talk is a person's inner voice consisting of an endless stream of thoughts that can influence his functioning and performance.1 Unlike negative self-talk that is likely to increase one's level of stress and his tendency to succumb in rumination, positive self-talk is associated with improving mental health and well-being. For instance, positive self-talk has been shown to enhance self-confidence and reduce anxiety and depression.2/3 It has also proved to be effective in improving coping skills in various settings.4/5This suggests that positive self-talk can prevent us from stress-induced psychological disorders.

The power of positive self-talk lies within the process of changing existing thought patterns.6 As a result, this leads to the desired behaviour being achieved. We can change our feelings and behaviour by changing the focus of our thoughts. Positive self-talk assists in maintaining focus, improving motivation, and coping with negative thoughts and emotions.7 Taking the steps to increase positive self-talk can enhance our psychological state and performance.

Tips and recommendations

1) Identify negative self-talk: certain scenarios may increase our self-doubt and lead to negative self-talk. Before we learn to practice positive self-talk, it is first necessary to recognize patterns of negative thinking and self-talk in these scenarios. There are generally four categories of negative thinking and self-talk:8 

  • Personalizing: the tendency to blame ourselves.
  • Magnifying: the tendency to exaggerate the degree or intensity of a problem.
  • Catastrophizing: the tendency to expect the worst outcomes without logical explanation or adequate reasoning. 
  • Polarizing: the tendency to focus entirely on the negatives or the positives. In other words, to see the world in black and white without seeing the shades of grey. 

2) Start reframing self-talk in the following way:

  • Negative: “I can‘t cope with this.“ 
  • Positive: “I can get through this one day at a time.“  

3) We can train ourselves to recognize negative thoughts and self-talk and develop the skills to correct negative self-talk. With every statement, we have to find evidence which supports/opposes the claim.

  • Check your emotional state: we may not always be aware of the thoughts that are running through our mind. Therefore, it is necessary to pause and reflect on how our current thoughts are making us feel. 
  • Form positive affirmations (short and encouraging sentences). Daily positive affirmations can help us redirect our thoughts.

Acknowledge what is and is not within your control

A sense of perceived control has been found to be a strong predictor of mental health and well-being.1 It reflects a person’s belief that one has control over his personal environment and future.2 

Feeling a sense of control is interconnected with our psychological functioning, cognition and behaviour,3 the extent to which we perceive control over our life can affect aspects of our functioning and behaviour. Some individuals have the tendency to control external factors that are beyond their control.

Acknowledge what is and is not within your control

Robust evidence indicates that individuals with a higher sense of such external control are more likely to be sensitive to stress, and low control can contribute to psychological distress.4 People generally prefer to have high control over their life.5 Therefore, any unexpected change that affects their life can foster uncertainty. Covid-19 serves as a good example as it has introduced us to a new way of living.

The tendency to have an increased sense of control is also associated with higher levels of psychological issues i.e. the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders.6  In that respect, learning to acknowledge and accept what is and what is not under our control will help us focus on the elements of a situation that are within our control. These skills will also help us tolerate uncertainty.

Tips and recommendations

Let’s regain the control! Mindfulness is the practice of ’living‘ in the present which involves the process of being self-aware.7 Learn to acknowledge and accept things that are outside of our control using the following mindfulness inspired tips: 

  • Determine what is in our power to control – being aware of what we can and can’t control is the first step to empowering ourselves.
  • Pay attention to thoughts and feelings – keeping our attention in the present is a key to being aware of our current mental state. It is necessary to pause and reflect on how the current thought is making us feel to be in tune with our emotions, thoughts, and sensations. 
  • Focus on the present – bringing our attention to the present by ’living‘ in the moment helps us focus on what is now as opposed to what could have been or what might be about to occur. Being mindful of the present allows us to be in control of our thoughts and emotions.

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Read inspirational literature

Read inspirational literature

Books are the window to the world and reading brings us entertainment and boosts our mood and creativity, and has many benefits for your mental health and well-being, too.It takes 30 minutes of reading to lower blood pressure, heart rate, or the level of stress.1 Reading books can also promote social perception and emotional intelligence, mainly the ability to empathize with others.2 It can become a part of bedtime ritual, as it can help you sleep better.3

We also know that reading can increase an individual’s vocabulary that has been linked with greater intelligence.4 Books give us an opportunity to escape from the real world and its troubles.5 Also, people with mental illness reading „recovery narratives“ can increase connectedness and understanding of recovery, while validating personal experience and reducing stigma.6 

Tips and recommendations

Stories have a structure – they have a beginning, a middle and an end, and that’s exactly what our brain needs. Try this week to read for 30 minutes every day. It might be before you go to sleep or you may schedule special time during your day. One thing to note – don’t read solely on a device, ang get print books, too. You may want to pick up a book you wanted to read for ages, drink a cup of tea and dive in.

Practice mindfulness or meditation

Mindfulness is most commonly defined as an open and receptive attention to and awareness of what is occurring in the present moment.1 Mindfulness-based techniques are becoming recognized as credible tools in enhancing quality of life and reducing stress and anxiety in both healthy individuals and people suffering from psychiatric disorders.2/3 Moreover, mindfulness techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on cognitive functions, especially attention.4 One of the core parts of mindfulness training involves training the ability to bring one’s attention back to the present moment every time the mind starts wandering. This is usually done by concentrating on a person's own breath, on sensation of the ground or by sounds in the environment. 

Spiritual self-care

Tips and recommendations

One of the biggest advantages of mindfulness is the fact that it is not about practicing an hour sitting meditation. There are many ways how everyone can integrate mindfulness into daily routine – for example, during making dinner, walking or travelling by public transport.

  • Try to observe the present moment and notice all thoughts, emotions and body sensations without further judging them. It is especially important to realize that mindfulness is not about getting rid of negative thoughts, emotions and sensations, but rather about understanding them as “just” mental and bodily events that come and go.
  • Try to find 5-10 minutes every day to practice. When you wake up, first you can breathe and notice your thoughts and emotions.
  • After that, you can focus on the sensation of brushing our teeth or washing hands. Bring our attention back to your senses, the smell of the soup, the sensation and the sound of running water.
  • During your way to work, focus on the sensation of the ground beneath your feet and on the sounds surrounding you.
  • Whenever you feel anxious or tired during the day, try to take a break and relax for a while by concentrating on the present moment.
  • But do not forget that it is not a competition or act requiring perfection to be helpful. It is completely normal to get distracted or to be able to concentrate only for a few minutes at a time, especially when starting out.

Other evidence-based practices

  • Pursue new interests.
  • Adopt a both/and mentality.
  • Access psychotherapy, life coaching, or counselling.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Learn new skills.
  • Spend time on self-reflection.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Express gratitude.


Mindfully engage, and disengage with electronics and technologies
  1. Afshin A, Babalola D, Mclean M, Yu Z, Ma W, Chen CY, Arabi M, Mozaffarian D. Information Technology and Lifestyle: A Systematic Evaluation of Internet and Mobile Interventions for Improving Diet, Physical Activity, Obesity, Tobacco, and Alcohol Use. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 Aug 31;5(9):e003058. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.115.003058. 
  2. Spijkerman MP, Pots WT, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev. 2016 Apr;45:102-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009. 
  3. Barclay G, Sabina A, Graham G. Population health and technology: placing people first. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(12):2246-2247. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302334 
  4. Spitzer
  5. Sussman CJ, Harper JM, Stahl JL, Weigle P. Internet and Video Game Addictions: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Neurobiology. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2018 Apr;27(2):307-326. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2017.11.015. Epub 2018 Feb 1. PMID: 29502753. 
  6. Wahl S, Engelhardt M, Schaupp P, Lappe C, Ivanov IV. The inner clock-Blue light sets the human rhythm. J Biophotonics. 2019 Dec;12(12):e201900102. doi: 10.1002/jbio.201900102. Epub 2019 Sep 2. PMID: 31433569; PMCID: PMC7065627.
  1. Baikie, K. A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11, 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
  2. Danoff-Burg, S., Mosher, C. E., Seawell, A. H., & Agee, J. D. (2010). Does narrative writing instruction enhance the benefits of expressive writing?. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 23(3), 341-352. 
  3. Lepore, S. J., Greenberg, M. A., Bruno, M., & Smyth, J. M. (2002). Expressive writing and health: Self-regulation of emotion-related experience, physiology, and behavior. 
  4. Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290. 
  5. Purcell, M. (2020). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from 
  6. Smyth, J. M., Stone, A. A., Hurewitz, A., & Kaell, A. (1999). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis: A randomized trial. Jama, 281(14), 1304-1309. 
  7. Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 130(3), 520. 
Challenge intrusive and negative thinking
  1. Vaish, A., Grossmann, T., & Woodward, A. (2008). Not all emotions are created equal: the negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological bulletin, 134(3), 383. 
  2. Cacioppo, J. T., Cacioppo, S., & Gollan, J. K. (2014). The negativity bias: Conceptualization, quantification, and individual differences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(3), 309. 
  3. Huang, Y. X., & Luo, Y. J. (2006). Temporal course of emotional negativity bias: an ERP study. Neuroscience letters, 398(1-2), 91-96. 
  4. Mumme, D. L., & Fernald, A. (2003). The infant as onlooker: Learning from emotional reactions observed in a television scenario. Child development, 74(1), 221-237. 
  5. Hamlin, J.K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2010).Three‐month‐olds show a negativity bias in their social evaluations. Developmental science, 13(6), 923-929. 
  6. Ito, T. A., Larsen, J. T., Smith, N. K., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: the negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(4), 887. 
  7. Winston, S. M., & Seif, M. N. (2017). Overcoming unwanted intrusive thoughts: A CBT-based guide to getting over frightening, obsessive, or disturbing thoughts. New Harbinger Publications. 
  8. Winston, S. M., & Seif, M. N. (2017). Overcoming unwanted intrusive thoughts: A CBT-based guide to getting over frightening, obsessive, or disturbing thoughts. New Harbinger Publications. 
  9. Smith, G. K., Mills, C., Paxton, A., & Christoff, K. (2018). Mind-wandering rates fluctuate across the day: evidence from an experience-sampling study. Cognitive research: principles and implications, 3(1), 54. 
  10. Winston, S. M., & Seif, M. N. (2017). Overcoming unwanted intrusive thoughts: A CBT-based guide to getting over frightening, obsessive, or disturbing thoughts. New Harbinger Publications. 
Practice positive self-talk
  1. Yaratan, H., & Yucesoylu, R. (2010). Self-esteem, self-concept, self-talk and significant others’ statements in fifth grade students: Differences according to gender and school type. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3506-3518. 
  2. Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33(5), 666-687. 
  3. Michl, L. C., McLaughlin, K. A., Shepherd, K., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2013). Rumination as a mechanism linking stressful life events to symptoms of depression and anxiety: Longitudinal evidence in early adolescents and adults. Journal of abnormal psychology, 122(2), 339. 
  4. Beck, J. S., & Beck, A. T. (1995). Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond (No. Sirsi) i9780898628470). New York: Guilford press. 
  5. Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk–performance relationship: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and exercise, 10(1), 186-192. 
  6. Hamilton, R., Miedema, B., MacIntyre, L., & Easley, J. (2011). Using a positive self-talk intervention to enhance coping skills in breast cancer survivors: lessons from a community-based group delivery model. Current Oncology, 18(2), e46. 
  7. Johnson, J. J. M., Hrycaiko, D. W., Johnson, G. V., & Hallas, J. M. (2004). Self-talk and female youth soccer performance. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 44–59. 
  8. Hamilton, R., Miedema, B., MacIntyre, L., & Easley, J. (2011). Using a positive self-talk intervention to enhance coping skills in breast cancer survivors: lessons from a community-based group delivery model. Current Oncology, 18(2), e46. 
Acknowledge what is and is not within your control
  1. Dijkstra, M., & Homan, A. C. (2016). Engaging in rather than disengaging from stress: Effective coping and perceived control. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1415. 
  2. Rotter, J. B. (1990). Internal versus external control of reinforcement: A case history of a variable. American psychologist, 45(4), 489. 
  3. Spielberger, C. (2004). Encyclopedia of applied psychology. Academic press. 
  4. Roddenberry, A., & Renk, K. (2010). Locus of control and self-efficacy: potential mediators of stress, illness, and utilization of health services in college students. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 41(4), 353-370. 
  5. Spielberger, C. (2004). Encyclopedia of applied psychology. Academic press. 
  6. Hovenkamp-Hermelink, J. H., Jeronimus, B. F., Spinhoven, P., Penninx, B. W., Schoevers, R. A., & Riese, H. (2019). Differential associations of locus of control with anxiety, depression and life-events: A five-wave, nine-year study to test stability and change. Journal of affective disorders, 253, 26-34. 
  7. Reich, J. W., & Infurna, F. J. (Eds.). (2017). Perceived control: Theory, research, and practice in the first 50 years. Oxford University Press.
Read inspirational literature
  1. Rizzolo, D., Zipp, G. P., Stiskal, D., & Simpkins, S. (2009). Stress management strategies for students: The immediate effects of yoga, humor, and reading on stress. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 6(8). 
  2. Djikic, M., Oatley, K., & Moldoveanu, M. C. (2013). Reading other minds: Effects of literature on empathy. Scientific Study of Literature, 3(1), 28-47. 
  3. Mindell, J. A., Meltzer, L. J., Carskadon, M. A., & Chervin, R. D. (2009). Developmental aspects of sleep hygiene: findings from the 2004 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll. Sleep medicine, 10(7), 771-779. 
  4. Smith, B. L., Smith, T. D., Taylor, L., & Hobby, M. (2005). Relationship between intelligence and vocabulary. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100(1), 101-108. 
  5. Begum, S. (2011). Readers' advisory and underestimated roles of escapist reading. Library Review. 
  6. Rennick-Egglestone, S., Morgan, K., Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Ramsay, A., McGranahan, R., Gillard, S., ... & Pinfold, V. (2019). Mental health recovery narratives and their impact on recipients: systematic review and narrative synthesis. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 64(10), 669-679.).
Practice mindfulness/meditation
  1. Brown, K. W. & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Perils and promise in defining and measuring mindfulness: Observations from experience. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 11(3), 242 
  2. Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., ... & Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 33(6), 763-771. 
  3. Zoogman, Sarah & Goldberg, Simon & Hoyt, William & Miller, Lisa. (2014). Mindfulness Interventions with Youth: A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness. 6. 10.1007/s12671-013-0260-4.
  4. Semple, R. J. (2010). Does mindfulness meditation enhance attention? A randomized controlled trial. Mindfulness, 1(2), 121-130.