17 Tips To Stop Looping Thoughts When Your Brain Gets Stuck

You’re trying to get through your day, but your anxious thoughts are looping over and over again. They keep swimming around in your brain like sharks, but no matter how much you try to tell yourself to calm down, it just isn’t happening. It’s so frustrating! Okay, stop and take a deep breath. Then, try one (or all!) of these 17 effective tips to stop looping thoughts when it feels like your brain is stuck in the mud. Ready? Let’s send those negative thoughts packing!

1. Quickly Jot Down Your Thoughts.

Got a pen and piece of paper handy? Good. When those thoughts strike, it’s handy to jot them down. They feel so different when they’re written down instead of being stuck in your head. You’ll see the illogical thoughts right in front of you, which makes them easier to challenge and zap.

2. Take “What If?” Thoughts To The End.

“What if?” thoughts can be especially frustrating because they throw all the worst-case scenarios your way. Examples of “what if?” thoughts could be, “What if I fall in front of everyone and they all laugh at me?” or “What if I fail this exam and don’t get a job?” A good tip when dealing with these thoughts is to play them out to the end. So what if you fall and everyone laughs? You’ll stand up and keep walking! Okay, you might fail. It sucks but you’ll get a tutor and rewrite the exam.

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4. Phone A Friend.

Getting stuck in your brain is no fun. Sometimes, you need to get an outsider’s perspective on things. So, call your bestie and tell her about your thoughts and fears. See what she says. Even just the fact of speaking up about what’s bothering you can help scatter those thoughts.

5. Distract Yourself.

If you can’t wrestle with your thoughts, try to put your mental focus on something else. Read a book, watch some mindless TV, or play with your cat. This helps to break the cycle of the looping thoughts, at least for a little while. Can you hear that? The silence is so lovely!

6. Visualize Disappearing Thoughts.

Use your brain power to send those thoughts packing! Here’s a quick visualization session you can do: close your eyes and picture your thoughts as bottles on a wall. Now, imagine grabbing a shotgun and shooting them. Pow! Pow! Pow! Or, imagine the thoughts are clouds moving across a blue sky and watch them disappear out of sight.

7. Use Positive Mantras.

A mantra is a powerful way to shift into a positive mindset. When you’re attacked by thoughts, break them into pieces by with a positive mantra. Examples include saying, “I can do this!” or “I will succeed.” Even things like, “I am calm right now” can help you prevent thoughts from snowballing so you can stop freaking out.

8. Schedule Time For Your Thoughts.

If I tell you not to think about a pink elephant, you’re going to think about it. It’s the same with thoughts. Instead of fighting them, which is exhausting, a good way to control them is to set aside time for when you’ll tackle them. You can even tell yourself, “I’ll think about this tomorrow after work.” This gives you some peace so you’re not attacked by thoughts 24-7.

9. Set A Timer On Fixating.

When you set aside some time for working through your thoughts and letting them run free, you should set a timer. Tell yourself you’ll process your thoughts for 10 or 15 minutes. This helps you to control your thoughts and can help you to work through them and then banish them so they don’t linger.

10. Be Kind To Yourself.

Dealing with intrusive thoughts on a loop can be stressful. You might fall into the trap of mentally kicking yourself for having them. You might silently scream at yourself, too. This just makes things worse. Be kinder to yourself. Treat yourself gently, like you’re a vulnerable, scared child. You’ll get more done out of love.

11. Check The Facts.

If you’re dealing with illogical thoughts, it’s easy to spiral. How do you talk yourself off the ledge? A handy tip is to use facts. So, if your thoughts are, “I’m going to jump off the diving board, hit my head at the bottom of the pool, and die!” you could bring some facts to the situation. How deep is the pool? If it’s very deep, you’re not going to hit your head at the bottom of the pool. If you don’t have the facts, get them so you can use them to shut down your fears.

12. Search For Positive Angles.

Maybe you’re stressing out about dating because you don’t think the guy you’re crushing on likes you back. Your thoughts involve rejection, fear, and embarrassment. Now, think about something positive. Maybe he likes you back! Maybe he’s just as scared as you are about making the first move. Going from extreme negative to extreme positive thoughts can help you gain a bit more of a balanced perspective. (Side note: Why aren’t looping thoughts ever positive? FML.)

13. Find Something Funny About The Situation.

Obsessive thoughts don’t make you laugh, but that’s why you need to find something funny about them. Humor helps to calm you down, it lowers your blood pressure, and it can give you a good distraction. So, if your thoughts are that you’re going to fail miserably in your new job, think about how that could be funny if you were watching it in a movie. Maybe you slip and all the coffees you’re carrying go splashing across the expensive carpet, then your boss slips and falls, showing everyone her frog-patterned undies. You get the picture.

14. Remember You’ll Deal ‘Cause You Always Do.

Sometimes, the only way you can find the light at the end of that looping tunnel of fear and anxiety is to say, “Okay, fine, I’ll deal with whatever happens to me!” Think about times in your past when you were faced with something terrifying and you came out of it alive – and with a great story to tell. See? You can do it again, ’cause you’re stronger than you think.

15. Put Your Mind in Mindfulness.

Practicing a quick sesh of mindfulness every day can help keep the intrusive, loopy thoughts at bay. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment and being more aware of it. An example is to observe your thoughts without judgment and keep returning to the moment, such as by focusing on your breathing. It’s so easy, it’s sometimes difficult – but you can get there with practice.

16. Do Something For Someone Else.

When you take yourself out of the spinning thoughts in your mind, it can help you reset them. One of the best ways to do this is through acts of service. Get involved in someone else’s issue and help them out. Put your energy into that for a bit. Not only will you calm your mind, but you’ll feel good about having helped someone.

17. Ask Yourself If You Can Do Something About It.

If you’re obsessing about a fight you had with a friend, maybe you can chat to her and sort things out so they don’t hang around. Or, if you’re worried about the next day’s mammoth amount of chores, maybe you can draw up a list of what you’ll be able to achieve. Taking action is a powerful way to deal with your stress.

18. Speak To A Psychologist.

Sometimes those loopy thoughts can stick around. They rent a space in your head and you can’t seem to evict them, no matter what you do. Luckily, there’s help out there if you need it, so get in touch with a local psychologist who can help you suss them out and take control of your headspace.

Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.