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5 Easy Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

shutterstock_80347894This past weekend, I found myself 400 miles and 3 states away from home with $16 of cash, a half tank of gas, but no credit cards.

I pulled into a gas station and asked if they would take a check. Nope.

How about a credit card number phoned in from my husband? Nope.

My random gift cards were worthless here. I was worried.

I was desperate. I went back to my car where my young daughter sat and asked her if I could borrow the money in her coin purse. She had $2.38.

Digging through the crevices and corners of my car yielded another $1.03. I went inside and placed the pile of change in front of the cashier. The total amount was $19.41, a little less than 5 gallons of gas.

In my mind I was going through everything that had gone wrong. Why did I forget my credit card? Do hotels take checks from out of state? Do restaurants? What would I feed my daughter? Where would we sleep? How could I be so stupid???

I was going full force into negative thinking. I finally realized that my thoughts weren’t doing me any good at all. In fact, they were harmful. With my mind full of what if’s, there was no room or energy for realistic problem solving.

Once I slowed down I realized that my daughter wouldn’t starve, I could find a way to get some cash back from a store, and that I was resourceful enough to deal with this situation.

I did some mental arithmetic and discovered that I could keep my miles per gallon quite high if I used cruise control and didn’t rush. At 42 miles per gallon or more, I could possibly make it. And if I didn’t, I would be close enough to have someone come and get us.

Negative thoughts often sneak up when people are stressed, anxious, or depressed. And once they take root, they can impede more helpful, critical, and logical thinking.

Here are 5 simple and easy ways to manage negative thoughts when they appear.

  1. Help your body relax: breathe deeply 5 times; take a drink of water; loosen up your arms and legs, roll your shoulders. If you have the time, you can even do progressive relaxation. Having a body that is relaxed will make your mind less stressed and encourage new problem solving.
  2. Think of the ultimate worst case scenario. I do mean worst case. In my example it would be that the car would run out of gas, my phone wouldn’t work to call for help and no one would stop for us, and we’d spend the night in the car. Extremely unlikely. Coming up with the worst case scenario forces your mind to think outside the box.
  3. Ask for help from someone you trust. If you lost a job, ask a close friend for help understanding why. If you struggle with your weight, talk with your doctor. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you stuck. The more minds that work at solving a problem, the better.
  4. Make a plan. It doesn’t have to be super long or incredibly detailed. The purpose is to give you an outline or a map of what to do next. My plan was to find all the cash I could, to estimate how far my car would go on the gas I had, talk to my husband for his thoughts on the situation, drive slowly to conserve fuel, and to look for a store that would take checks and allow me to get cash back.
  5. Replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Don’t just think them, though. Write them out and put them where you will see them: on your bathroom mirror, your steering wheel, as a screensaver on your computer.

Negative thoughts can bog people down and prevent them from problem solving. The more you can rid yourself of them, the freer your mind will be to problem solve rather than perseverate.

In the end, I was able to clearly think through a plan to deal with the problem. I made it home with the empty gas light on, but I made it home. And I wasn’t bitter or angry or stressed. Well, maybe a touch stressed…

Photo from Shutterstock

5 Easy Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2013). 5 Easy Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 15, 2018, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Sep 2013
Published on All rights reserved.