Spring Cleaning for Your Mind: 3 Simple Ways to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the flowers are starting to bloom. Can you tell that Spring is on its way?

You’ve made it through one more Chicago winter and maybe had to deal with a bit of the winter blues, which are completely normal and really common (check out this blog post to read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder). 

If you had some down days over the past few months, you might have noticed having more negative thoughts than usual. Negative thoughts are a common issue that often creep up when you’re dealing with anything depression-related, whether it’s a full-blown depressive episode, seasonal blues, or just a “blah” day. 

Have you ever wondered what causes us to have these negative thoughts? It’s a good question, and one we have an answer to. People often struggle with negative thoughts because of something called cognitive distortions.

What are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are common (but unhelpful!) thought patterns that cause our minds to assume the worst, jump to conclusions, or focus on negative things. They often have an irrational impact on our emotional state and can trigger shame, anxiety, and self-criticism. While there are a myriad of different cognitive distortions, we’ve picked out the ones our therapists see most frequently to focus on here.

As we head into another glorious Spring season, we encourage you to take some time to focus on cleaning out some super common cognitive distortions that might have set up camp in your thoughts. Think about it as spring cleaning for your mind! And to help you do this, we’ve put together some really simple tools you can use to combat the cognitive distortion, shift your mindset out of the negative, and train your brain to focus more on the positive! 

All-or-Nothing Thinking

Also called black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing thinking works exactly as the name implies… it’s when you think in absolutes and your brain holds a binary perspective, with no gray area or middle ground in your thought process. Common indicators that you might be engaging in all-or-nothing thinking are if you notice the words “always” or “never” in your thoughts. For example, all-or-nothing thinking might lead you to say things like:

  • She always cancels plans we make. Our friendship must not be important to her.
  • I can’t believe I made a mistake when my boss asked me a question during my presentation. The whole thing was a total failure!
  • My partner never wants to do the things I do. My needs don’t matter in this relationship.

If you brought any of these thoughts into therapy, your therapist might help you gently challenge the rigidity behind these statements to discover some examples of how your all-or-nothing thoughts aren’t true. Unpacking the thought and realizing that there are other truths to the situation helps you train your brain to start also noticing other possibilities, which can decrease stress, anxiety, and negative thinking.


Catastrophizing is a fancy word for “assuming the worst”. When we fall victim to catastrophizing, our brain focuses on the worst case scenario and starts to prepare for that to happen. When you notice yourself catastrophizing, you can ask yourself two simple questions to snap yourself out of it:

What other things might be possible instead of my worst case scenario?

What evidence do I have that supports my thought that the worst will happen?

Here’s an example of how that works… Your boss sends you an email that has a cryptic message about needing to meet with you and you automatically think you’re going to get fired, which is a perfect example of catastrophizing.  So let’s use these questions to combat the worst case scenario thinking:

What other things might be possible instead of my worst case scenario?

  • My boss might have a new project for me to work on.
  • My boss might want to give me feedback on some work I did.
  • My boss might need to share private information about the company.

What evidence do I have that supports my thought that the worst will happen?

  • I recently got positive feedback on my annual review. That doesn’t support the thought that I’m going to lose my job.
  • I was recently added to a project that was struggling to meet its goals because my boss said my experience would help the team change its approach. That also doesn’t support the thought that I’m going to lose my job.

When we talk about catastrophizing, it’s important to realize a few things. First, it’s human nature to expect the worst sometimes. That’s part of how our brains are wired in an effort to keep us safe. Second, the worst case scenario hardly ever happens. And third, in those rare cases when your worst fear comes true, here’s a secret for you… You are equipped to handle difficult situations. You can do hard things. You will survive it. 

Discounting the Positive

Our brains are wired to keep us safe. What we now consider negative thinking, at one time was a protective mechanism to ensure our survival. Because of this outdated skill, it can be hard for our brains to accept (our count!) positive things. You might say that we’re wired to focus on bad things. In doing that, we discount good things that happen and place no value on them. But thanks to something called neuroplasticity, we can actually train our brains to be more attuned to and accepting of good things that happen!

If you take a minute to think about your morning, what comes to mind? Do you think about how you spilled your coffee on your favorite sweater, got stuck at all the red lights, and forgot your lunch at home? Okay, those things might all have happened and that’s frustrating… but what about the fact that you got a prime parking spot right by the front doors of your office? Or you found a gift card for your favorite lunch spot tucked away in your desk? Or your work bestie brought you a coffee?

If you’re inclined to think that those good things don’t count as much as the bad things that happened this morning, you’re probably discounting the positive pretty strongly. The fact is, both things – good and bad – can have an impact on our mood. And the more we train our brain to take notice of and embrace the positive things, the less impact the negative things will have on us.

One of our favorite ways of training the brain to stop discounting the positive is to engage in a regular gratitude practice. By focusing on things you’re grateful for, your brain begins to identify these things as they happen and hold on to them as positive moments of your day.

Stopping Negative Thought Patterns

The skills discussed in this blog can help you stop engaging in cognitive distortions. As you begin this, remember that it takes practice to retrain your brain. You won’t do it perfectly right away and that’s okay! The more you practice, the more you will build up your ability to combat negative thoughts and over time you’ll begin to notice your go-to cognitive distortions happening less and less.

If you find yourself struggling to overcome negative thoughts or you need some extra support to challenge your cognitive distortions, we can help you. Please reach out to us to schedule a time to meet with one of our therapists.  We’re here for you and we’d love to help.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels


If you’re in the Chicago area and interested in therapy services, you can learn more about starting here. Or if you’re ready to get started, reach out to us and schedule an appointment.
We are offering a hybrid of in person + teletherapy sessions using a HIPAA compliant secure video and phone platform.
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