- Kristen Stuppy, MD
ABCs of stopping negative thoughts and rumination
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
We all have negative thoughts, but when we get stuck in a rut about them, it’s called rumination. When we ruminate, we can’t stop thinking the negative thought, which keeps us from finding appropriate solutions and moving forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches how to break this cycle of rumination. One way to use CBT is to think of your ABCs. Use the handout linked below to stop thinking negative thoughts.
A is for Adversity
When there’s a problem, we need to identify the trigger, or what is causing the adverse situation.
B is for Belief
How we view a problem is not necessarily what is going on. We tend to catastrophize the situation.
C is for Consequences of believing in the negative thought
Notice this does not simply say consequences. It is important to focus on identifying your belief and how it is coloring your view. Not everything we fear is based on reality. Learn to find the facts.
D is for Disputing
Dispute your negative belief. What are alternative ways to look at things?
E is for Energizing
What effect does disputing have on your mood? Is there something you can take from the dispute to use in a positive way?
What does this look like?
Download a free printable to help you work through the ABCs of stopping negative thoughts and ruminating yourself. Stop thinking negative thoughts with the help of this FREE handout.
Check out the following examples to see how the process works.
Situation 1: Your BFF hasn’t answered your important text.
A: Your friend is usually quick to reply and you’re worried that there’s something wrong that’s kept her from replying.
B: You don’t know if she’s mad at you or dead on the side of the road after an accident.
C: You are worried that you did something to anger your friend or that something catastrophic is keeping her from answering.
D: There was no indication that she was upset with you last time you spoke. She is a safe driver and the road conditions are fine. It is possible that she could have forgotten to charge her phone (again). She could have the ringer off. Sometimes texts don’t go through. She might be busy doing something and unable to check messages.
E: Do you feel less anxious realizing there are other reasons that your text has gone unanswered? What about these new thoughts can help you problem solve? Is there another way to reach your friend, such as through her parent or another friend? Should you call instead of text?
Situation 2: Too much to do!
A: Last week you missed a couple days of school so you got behind and can’t quite get back on track. You have a paper due, a huge test this week, and practice every night after school.
B: There’s so much to do, you’re overwhelmed and can’t even start on any of the schoolwork. After practice you want to just relax and watch YouTube videos. You need time to relax to feel better, but then you realize hours later that no work has been done, so you’re going to be up all night working. This leaves you too tired to focus at school so you get confused on even simple concepts and questions.
C: Anxiety is keeping you from initiating what needs to be done. While relaxing is important, you are not using your time efficiently, which is adding to the problem. You’re sleep deprived, which increases anxiety.
D: Take a look at how much time you’re spending on everything. What can be pushed off until later? Where are the priorities? How can you moderate your down time so you can be productive but still have time to relax?
Mindset: This is a situation I have the capacity to deal with. I’ve developed a pattern of avoidant coping but I can get better at non-avoidant coping through the right kind of practice. This is an opportunity for that.
E: Does realizing how much down time you waste help you regroup and use time more efficiently? Are you motivated to set timers to help limit your free time? Can you grab a friend to study together to keep you on track? Are there things you need to change in your schedule so you can devote appropriate time to tasks? Are any of your teachers willing to extend the deadline since you were sick? What can you learn from this to do it better next time?