5 Tips to Break Free from Negative Thoughts

We all get lost in thought from time to time, but sometimes those thoughts feel downright overwhelming. If we don’t take specific action to stop the thought loop, it can throw off our whole day. Whether you suffer from anxiety, mild depression, or you just woke up in a funk, mindfulness can help. Try one or all of these tips for yourself and see what a difference mindfulness can make.

  1. Become an observer: Slow down and notice what is arising. “Oh, that’s anger in my chest,” or “That’s anxiety in my stomach.” Labeling the emotion gives you some space from the intensity of the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing, allowing you to observe them instead of being hijacked by them.
  2. Try meditation: Even if you’re not an experienced meditator, there are so many ways to dip your toe in these days — including trying meditations that are just a few short minutes long. Meditation slows you down and calms you down. You can get started with some of my free guided meditations here on the Insight Timer App. (Learn more about the benefits of meditation in published research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. For an exploration of brain changes when studying meditators, see this 2013 study and this research from the early ‘90s.)
  3. Offer yourself a gentle touch: Placing our hands where we find them most soothing releases oxytocin and opiates, helping us to regulate the cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones that flood us when we are upset. You can place your hands wherever on your body you observed feeling an intensity of emotion in Tip One, or you can just place them anywhere that feels calming for you, such as around your arms, on your cheeks, or on your stomach. (For a general discussion of oxytocin release with various types of touch, see this study.)
  4. Get grounded: Drop your attention to the soles of your feet; notice if they are warm or cold, moist or dry. Pay attention to your feet for a couple of breath cycles. Then focus your concentration on your breath, if breathing feels comfortable for you.  Feel  and see your body breathing in for four counts and out for six. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, your heart rate and blood pressure will go down, and you will feel calmer.
  5. Change the channel: Invite yourself to change your channel of thought. Focus on something you are grateful for, perhaps going so far as to write a letter of gratitude to someone. (You don’t need to send it to get the mental health benefits.) You can also pull up a wonderful memory and marinate in those feelings to install the goodness in your body and mind, pushing the mental state into a neural trait so the happy bridge gets reinforced in your brain.

We are more than the content of our thoughts, but it sure can feel like they have power over us when we experience them as all consuming. With these mindfulness tools in your back pocket, you’ll have an option on hand to help you shift out of unhelpful thought patterns and feel more grounded and at ease. You’ve got this!

About: Mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to become trained to teach Mindful Self-Compassion, and completed the Positive Neuroplasticity Training Professional Course with Rick Hanson. Now, she shares these and other mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.” For more information, visit www.MindfulMethodsForLife.com.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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