3 Tips to Stop the Snowball Effect of Negative Thinking and Mental Chatter

Imagine that you’re about to go to bed at night when you all-of-a-sudden remember an important video conference you need to attend the following day. You pull out your journal or planner and start jotting it down and blocking it off in your calendar so that you don’t forget… But one thought leads to another, and now, all of a sudden, instead of being grateful for having remembered your meeting tomorrow, you start stressing out about everything else you’ve got on your plate this week.

And before you know it, you’re inundated with a flurry of anxiety-inducing thoughts: Your meeting tomorrow is on video and your home office looks like a war zone. You’ve got several upcoming deadlines to meet for work and you don’t know how you’ll get it all done. You’ve got a never-ending list of tasks on your to-do list, your car needs an oil change, and your inbox seems to fill back up just minutes after you clear it out.

You think, “I can’t believe how much stuff I have to do. This is driving me crazy!”

And you’re absolutely right—if you continue down this path, you WILL go crazy.

But there’s a better way to stop this mental chatter and negative thinking from snowballing out of control…

3 Tips to Stop Negative Thinking, Reduce Stressful Thoughts, and Regain Control Over the Voice in Your Head

Here are some actionable insights on how to get better at preventing “thought attacks” like the one above from spiraling out of control and overwhelming you in the process. Practice these tips to stop negative thinking and to regain control over the voice in your head.

  1. Be your own coach. Pretend like you’re helping a close friend who came to you for advice on how to stop negative thinking and uncontrollable mental chatter. How would you help them regain their sense of calm, clarity, and focus? For example: “Dean, you’ve got a lot going on right now, but if you decide what matters most right now and stay focused on that, it’ll be easier to stop the snowball effect before it starts to stress you out.” Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend.
  2. Practice noticingwhat’s happening in your mind before your flurry of thoughts turns into a snowball of stress. Simply be aware of your thoughts as they begin to build momentum.
  3. Catch yourself. Once you’re aware that a mental snowball is beginning to take shape, you’ll need to catch yourself and stop yourself. The sooner you can do this, the better and easier it’ll be to calm yourself down. Let’s run back to the example from earlier: Right before bed, you remember you’ve got a video-meeting to attend for work tomorrow. You quickly jot it down in your calendar. Then, as all the other stressful thoughts begin to arise in your mind, you notice them arising, and catch yourself before you start thinking about everything else you have to do by saying something like, “Ha! There goes that voice in my head again! Let’s get back on track.” Now, you can shut down that pattern of thinking before it turns into a giant, stressful snowball—and replace it with feelings of gratitude for having remembered your meeting tomorrow.

To review: If you suffer from the snowball effect of the voice in your head, you can get better at staying in control by 1) talking to yourself like you’d talk to a friend, 2) noticing the chatter, and 3) practicing catching yourself before the snowball gets too big.

Try these tips next time you’re overwhelmed or distracted by your own mental chatter—you’ll be surprised at how effective and stress-relieving it can be.

Dean Bokhari

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