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If your head is full of negative thoughts, it’s normal to feel down. While it won’t be easy to challenge the barrage of negativity, there are steps that you can take to help turn things around. Learn how to recognise and challenge your negative thought patterns one step at a time.

This can help if:

  • you’re experiencing depression or anxiety
  • you can’t seem to shift out of a negative way of thinking
  • you want to feel more positive and confident.
Boy smiling at camera

Challenging your inner voice

Self-talk is your inner voice – and the hard part about self-talk is that it always feels true, even when it’s biased or incorrect. Self-talk is often skewed towards the negative, and sometimes it's just plain wrong. If you’re experiencing depression, it’s likely that you interpret things negatively.

Learning to challenge negative thoughts might take time and practice, but it’s worth the effort. Once you start looking at it, you'll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or inclined towards a negative view of things.

Practice: Whenever you become aware that you’re feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as your signal to stop and reflect on your thoughts. Are things really as negative as what your inner voice is saying?

Challenging questions

A good way to test the accuracy or reasonableness of your thoughts might be to ask yourself some challenging questions.

There are four main types of challenging questions:

1. Questions that act as a reality check

  • What is the evidence for and against my thinking?
  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  • How can I find out if what I’m thinking is actually true?

2. Questions that seek alternative explanations

  • Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
  • What else could this mean?
  • If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?

3. Questions that put things in perspective

  • What’s the best thing that could happen?
  • Is there anything good about this situation?
  • Will this matter in five years’ time?

4. Questions that are goal-directed

  • Is this way of thinking helping me to achieve my goals?
  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
  • Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?

Check out this three-minute video about how young people cope with feeling stressed, anxious and down.

What can I do now?

  • Try to balance every negative thought with a positive one.
  • Get personalised support for negative thinking with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Get into the habit of tuning into your emotions as a way of checking-in with your thoughts.