Feel bad?  Try These 6 Thinking Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Feel bad? Try These 6 Thinking Exercises to Improve Your Mental Health

Negative thoughts and thought patterns influence everything from your emotions to your actions. When you are in a pattern of negativity, you feel like there is no way out. This is where reflection exercises come in. These simple exercises can help you see things in a new light and change the power your negative thoughts have over you.

Not only can thought exercises help you relieve stress, but they can also help us direct our subconscious thoughts in more productive and helpful directions over time. We’ve found the six best thinking exercises that improve mental health. We’ll even show you how to perform them.

Also find out what foods to eat for a happiness boost and what color to paint your room for better mental health.

What is a reflection exercise?

Reflection exercises are new ways of thinking about a given circumstance or experience that can help us break out of a stuck or pointless mode of thinking. While some reflective exercises have been widely studied by psychological researchers, others are suggested by psychologists and clinical mental health counselors because they have been anecdotally helpful for specific types of patients. Reflection exercises can be suggested by your therapistwhether they are online or in person.

Read more: 5 Best Online Therapy Services

It is important to keep in mind that there is no single reflection exercise. Feel free to try any of these for a few weeks and see if you like how they affect your mental health and sense of well-being. Otherwise, you can try another one. Reflection exercises are meant to be a method of seeing the world differently, not a medical treatment.

What are the benefits of thinking exercises for mental health?

Reframing thoughts is one of the building blocks of cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be effective in numerous studies.

  • A reflective exercise can help you stay calm during a stressful time and keep functioning, avoiding a more serious reaction like an anxiety attack.
  • Reflection exercises can reduce the duration and intensity of anxiety symptoms even when not combined with traditional therapy.
  • When associated with a mental health appreflection exercises can provide a diary of his growth and changes in his mental health.
  • Reflective exercises can make us more aware of what triggers our anxiety, allowing us to make changes in our lives that help us to to experience anxiety less often.

Read more: What to know about anxiety, symptoms and treatment

6 Thinking Exercises That Will Improve Your Mental Health

The next time you’re feeling stressed, try one of these ways to deal with overwhelming feelings.

Self-observation exercise

Many spiritual traditions include some kind of self-observation or mindfulness exercise, but this is also useful in a completely non-spiritual context. When you begin to experience the symptoms you associate with anxiety, you can use this exercise to become curious and learn more about what you are going through. Here’s how:

1. When you feel anxious and you can take a few minutes for yourself, do it. Stay away from others so you don’t get interrupted, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

2. Start noticing how each part of your body feels. Do you feel anxiety in your shoulders, neck, stomach, or head? Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as fatigue or headaches? Don’t judge the feelings, just write them down, as if you were watching a science experiment and had to take it all in.

3. Then turn your self-observation to your thoughts. What are the specific stressors cycling in your mind? Try to catalog them, rather than letting them overwhelm you. When you notice one, let it go, acknowledging that you “heard” it.

4. If you manage to focus fully on your bodily and mental sensations, you may be able to calm yourself down, doing things like releasing muscles you’ve discovered tense or letting your thoughts go instead of holding them intensely. It may take a few tries.

The act of self-observation can be a way to take your mind off anxiety and back to your body. When we are in fight or flight mode, anxiety keeps us safe, but if we are physically safe, it can be a way to assess our body and find our baseline.

low angle view of woman in yoga prayer pose

Self-observation exercises can help you stay grounded in the present.

Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Keep track of your thoughts

One of the ways people better understand their anxiety symptoms is to record their thoughts. This can be done in a traditional paper journal, but there are other options, especially when it’s not practical to carry an extra notebook everywhere. Thought Diary app is a simple interface, allowing you to write down your mood and all the details about it. It also includes other reflective exercises, such as practicing gratitude and analyzing a thought.

Examining your thoughts occasionally can help you make connections, including things like how sleep, exercise, and nutrition impact your anxiety symptoms.

Interrupt anxious thinking

Anxious thinking responds better to being distracted by a different task. These techniques are more about effectively distracting you and less about a technically “correct” method.

  • Try tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body, focusing on muscle activity and seeing if that can help you stop having anxious thoughts.
  • Breathing with an intentional count, like four counts and four counts.
  • Putting on some music, an audiobook, or a radio show can interrupt anxious thoughts and get your mind to focus on something else.
  • Saying out loud that you’re done thinking that way or making verbal affirmations can help you get out of your head and hear a positive voice more clearly.
  • Choosing a calming task that also engages mentally: puns on your phone, loading a dishwasher, a yoga class, or any other stretching routine can be an effective anxiety break.
  • Counting down slowly can sometimes interrupt the flow of anxiety.

Read more: 8 scientific exercises to relieve stress

Use cognitive defusion exercises

Cognitive defusion exercises are about getting an outside perspective on our thoughts, or strategies that help us detach and look more clearly at our thoughts. They are frequently used in CBT and other types of cognitive therapy.

  • Use a silly voice: Some people find it helpful to detach themselves from their thoughts by using a silly voice to say something like, “Oh, you think that’s very concerning, don’t you?” or some other thought observation.
  • Leaves on a Stream: Some people use the visualization of their thoughts floating down a river, coming to them and then leaving, as a way to see thoughts as separate from their core identity.
  • Label your thoughts: Some people find it helpful to label “this is an anxious thought” or “this is a scary thought” because they have thoughts, which helps them stop being an assessment of reality and treated as separate elements which should not be taken for granted.
  • “Thank you spirit”: When our spirit warns us in the form of an anxious thought, we can thank our spirit for trying to help and warn us.

Practice self-compassion

Anxiety sometimes presents as excessive worry that one is not good enough or that one has negative traits. These thoughts, when played over and over, can be demoralizing and can make daily activities miserable. One way to combat this negative self-talk is to practice self-compassion. Although it may seem strange at first, trying to see your current situation as you would see it if a good friend was going through it can be a start. Give yourself the kind of reassurance you would give a friend, instead of the harsh criticism you often give yourself.

Another self-compassion exercise is to find and focus on a photo of yourself from childhood. Instead of directing your thoughts to your adult self, direct them to this child. Recognize that your adult self deserves the same kind of comfort that a child deserves, because you are also learning, albeit different things.

The worry tree

The Worry Tree is a tool developed for those who experience compulsive or ongoing worry to help them make a conscious decision between worrying or doing something else. It’s a customizable flowchart chart for the person, but it basically starts with the question “What exactly am I worried about?” then “Can I do something?” and “Can I do something now?” The tree guides people to let go of worries when nothing can be done, to make a clear plan if nothing can be done now, and to go do something if there is something useful. to do about worry right now. This can help avoid rumination, where we think the same anxiety-provoking thoughts over and over without relief.

Read more: 9 Ways to Relieve Anxiety Without Drugs

The bottom line

Thinking exercises may seem different from our usual ways of thinking, but if you stay curious, you may find that your mind changes and you experience more ways to think positively over time. If you find that thinking exercises make your anxiety symptoms worse, you might have an ineffective thinking exercise for yourself, or your anxiety might respond better to treatment from a psychiatrist or counselor. Talking with a mental health professional is a good idea to get better answers about your specific situation.

More mental health advice

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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