Thought Exercises to Boost Your Mental Health

Negative thoughts and patterns of thinking can influence everything from your emotions all the way to your actions. When you’re in a pattern of negativity, it feels like there’s no way out. That’s where thought exercises come in. These simple-to-do exercises can help you see things in a new light, and change how much power your negative thoughts have over you. Not only can thought exercises help you ease stress, but they also can help us to make our subconscious thoughts go in more productive, helpful directions over time.

What is a Thought Exercise? 

Thought exercises are new ways to think about a given circumstance or experience that can help us get out of a stuck or unhelpful way of thinking. It’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all thought exercise. Feel free to try one of them for a few weeks and see if you like the way they impact your mental health and feelings of well-being. If not, you can try a different one. Thought exercises are meant to be a method of seeing the world differently. 

Thought Exercises that Will Boost Your Mental Health 

1. The Self-Observation Exercise

1. When you’re feeling anxious and have the opportunity to take a couple minutes to yourself, do so. Get away from others so you won’t be interrupted, even if it’s just a few minutes.

2. Start noting the way that every element of your body feels. Are you feeling anything in your shoulders, neck, stomach, or head? Are you experiencing other symptoms, like fatigue or a headache? Don’t judge the feelings, just note them, like you were observing a scientific experiment and needed to catch everything.

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

4. If you can get to a place of fully focusing on bodily and mental sensations, you may find yourself able to calm down, doing things like releasing the muscles you’ve discovered are tense or letting thoughts go instead of holding onto them intensely. This may take a few tries.

The act of self-observation can be a way to take your mind off the anxiety and come back to your body. When we’re in fight-or-flight mode, the anxiety gets us to safety, but if we are physically safe, this can be a way to evaluate our body and find our baseline again. 

2. Keep a Thought Record

This can be done in a traditional paper journal, but there are other options, especially when it’s inconvenient to carry an extra notebook everywhere. Reviewing your thought record occasionally can help you draw connections, including things like how sleep, exercise, and nutrition impact your feelings. 

3. Interrupt Anxious Thinking

Anxious thinking responds best to being distracted by a different task. These techniques are more about what effectively distracts you and less about a technically “right” method. 

  • Try tensing and relaxing different muscles in your body, focusing on the muscle activity and seeing if it can help you stop thinking anxious thoughts.
  • Breathing with an intentional count, like four counts in and four counts out.
  • Putting on music, an audiobook, or a radio show can interrupt anxious thoughts and bring your mind to bear on something else.
  • Loudly saying that you’re done thinking this way or verbally speaking affirmations can help get out of one’s head and hear a positive voice more clearly.
  • Choosing a soothing task that is also mentally engaging: word games on your phone, loading a dishwasher, or stretching can all be effective anxiety interruptions.
  • Counting backward slowly sometimes works to interrupt the feeling.

4. Use Cognitive Defusion Exercises

 Cognitive defusion exercises are all about getting an outside perspective on our thoughts, or strategies that help us detach and look more clearly at our thoughts.

  • Use a silly voice: Some people find it helpful to detach from their thoughts by using a silly voice to say something like, “Oh, you think this is very concerning, do you?” or some other observation about the thought. 
  • Leaves on a stream: Some people use the visualization that their thoughts are floating down a river, coming to them and then going away, as a way to see the thoughts as separate from their core identity.
  • Label your thoughts: Some people find it helpful to identify “that is an anxious thought” or “this is a fearful thought” as they have the thoughts, helping to take them out of being an assessment of reality and treating them as separate items which don’t have to be believed outright. 
  • “Thank you mind”: When our minds tell us a warning in the form of an anxious thought, we can offer gratitude to our mind for trying to help us and warn us.

5. Practice Self-Compassion

Anxiety sometimes presents as excessive worry that one isn’t good enough or has negative traits. These thoughts, when played on a loop, can be demoralizing and can make everyday activities miserable. A way to combat this negative self-talk is to practice self-compassion. While it may seem odd at first, trying to see your current situation the way you’d see it if a good friend was going through it can be a start. Give yourself the kind of comfort you’d give a friend, instead of the harsh critique you often give yourself. 

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

6. The Worry Tree

The worry tree is a tool developed for those who experience continual worry to help them make a conscious decision between worrying or doing something else. It is a flowchart graphic that is customizable to the person, but essentially starts by questioning, “What exactly am I worried about?” then “Can I do something about it?” and “Can I do something about it right now?”

The tree guides people to let worries go when nothing can be done, to make a clear plan if nothing can be done right now, and to go do something if there is something useful to be done about the worry right now. It can help avoid rumination, where we think the same thoughts over and over without relief. 

Final Words

Thought exercises can feel different from our typical ways of thinking, but if you remain curious, you may find your mind changing, experiencing more methods for how to think positively over time.

Article Credit:

Published by SULV Foundation

Build and Repeat is our Mission and Purpose, we strive to make the world a better place while creating inter-generational wealth.

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