How to challenge negative thoughts

Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
10 December 2019

There are lots of different patterns of thinking that can trip you up when you’re not feeling your best. Perhaps you always imagine the worst possible outcome, or blame yourself when things go wrong. Challenging this way of thinking isn’t easy, but there are some key things you can do.

Ask yourself these two key questions

Firstly, “How likely is it that something will happen?” Really think about it, if it’s not likely then give yourself permission to let the thought or worry go.

If it is likely, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Try to think rationally and evaluate your answer. If the worst-case scenario really isn’t that bad, allow yourself to be free of your negative beliefs or ways of thinking.

Think about your future self

If something did happen, try to think about your future self. “Will it affect you in so many months or years’ time?”

When things don’t go to plan, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and worry in the immediacy of the situation. But by stepping back and putting this moment into context, you may be able to help yourself cope in the here and now.

Weigh up the evidence

The way we feel isn’t necessarily how everyone else thinks or feels about a situation. For example, if you’re off sick from work, you might assume that people are talking about you or judging you. But do you have any evidence to support this?

Try to challenge your assumptions by looking at, and weighing up the evidence. Even though you initially think a certain way, perhaps this isn’t the case. In reality, you might have received a message from a concerned colleague or learn to realise that everyone is busy and not concerned with passing judgement.

Evaluate the costs versus benefits of negative thoughts

Call your thoughts and beliefs into question and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages. Note them down if this helps. Overall, ask yourself: “Is it worth it?” Perhaps your thoughts and beliefs are making you feel tired, upset or more worried. Acknowledging this may help you to change negative ways of thinking.

These are just some of the techniques that may be used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a therapy designed to help you change negative patterns in how you think, feel and behave.

If you are having negative thoughts, it’s important to speak to your GP. They can refer you for further help and support, or you may be able to refer yourself.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Psychotherapy. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry (4 ed online.). Oxford Medicine Online., published July 2019
    • Negative thinking: CBT tools. NHS Fife Department of Psychology., reviewed 2013
    • Cully, J.A., & Teten, A.L. 2008. A Therapist’s Guide to Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Department of Veterans Affairs South Central MIRECC, Houston. Module 10: Challenging maladaptive thoughts and beliefs

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