Snowballing thoughts: What are they + how can you make them stop ASAP? (Series part 2)

Are you trying to figure out how to stop negative thoughts?

I’m sure that’s true for more people than you realize. We are in an unprecedented time of worry, overwhelm, and change, and we are desperate to figure out how to think more positively.

People are dying from an illness we know little about.

Schools closed early, leaving many families with no option but to totally change their routine.

People are losing their jobs left and right.

Negative thoughts are to be expected in a time like this. Still, chronic negative thinking has a lot of bad effects on your heart and mind. So, it’s important to do what you can to attempt to be more positive.

This does not mean:

  • Ignoring the situation you’re in
  • Denying your mental illness
  • Living in a fantasy land

All it means is that you accept that things are the way that they are and change your reactions to them. I wrote a post about negative thinking several months ago, and it ended up being very popular. That’s what inspired me to write this series. You can read the first post in the series here: What is negative thinking? Take a sneak peek inside your brain! (Series part 1). Click there and read that first to find out what causes you to think so negatively in the first place.

In part 2 of the series, I am going to talk about the phenomenon of snowballing thoughts, and what you can do to stop the snowball in its track. Keep reading to find out what you can do about this common problem!

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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with depression and anxiety for many years, who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.

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What are snowballing thoughts?

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced this unpleasant phenomenon, but might not have known what it was called. When my anxiety is at its peak, it is something I have to work hard to control.

It’s called Snowballing Thoughts. According to PsychCentral, “Anxiety is a process, not just an experience. It doesn’t exist until created. It begins with one thought, and like a wave, builds as thoughts collect. You’re mostly unaware of developing stress via a build-up of worries, and the procedure goes ahead without intervention.”

I love how they word that: Anxiety is a process. It’s not just something you have out of nowhere. It’s the result of attitudes, experiences, and feelings that accumulate over time until one day you realize, “Oh, damn. I have anxiety.”

An example of snowballing thoughts

Here is a specific example of how this happens, using common anxiety triggers. One morning, you wake up, and decide to check your work emails. Just as you log-in and open up the first message- ZAP- the internet goes out.

That is usually a massive trigger of anxiety for me. How about you? You begin to feel frustrated, and despite the steps you take to fix the problem, you end up needing to call a technician. Now, the following happens.

  • Great. You work from home and it’s going to be hours before they can get someone out to fix the problem.
  • Your boss is going to be furious that you are late to start your work day.
  • They are probably going to remember this around annual review time.
  • You were really counting on that good review and raise to be able to do a necessary repair on your home.
  • The roof is never going to get fixed.
  • What if there is a huge storm and part of the roof collapses?
  • What if you’re inside when that happens?
  • You are going to die young.
purple background with white text that says "Snowballing thoughts: What are they + how you can make them stop ASAP?" and a black and white photo of a frustrated woman with her face in her hand

Realizing how illogical it is

In the example above, you went from frustration over your internet not working to picturing yourself dying at a young age. Now, as I mentioned, I have been through snowballing thought patterns like this. I understand how easily it can happen, and I’m not trying to minimize the power anxiety has over people.

But when you write it out in a bullet list like that, it is easier to see how illogical this is. In another post, I am going to dive deeper into questions you need to ask when anxiety hits. But for now, I’ll share one with you.

Ask yourself: Is this a fact, or a false belief?

A fact is that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. Are these snowballing thoughts based on fact, or are you maybe catastrophizing?

a year of positive thinking, journal, snowballing, anxiety

It can be very helpful to write all of this down to help yourself process it. If you don’t journal already, click the image above to find a journal that fits your needs.

What to do when your thoughts are out of control

Over time, it is possible to train your mind to not tend toward ruminative thinking. It takes a lot of practice. You can’t just try it once and then give up on positivity all together because it didn’t work. It is a daily ritual that can take months, and sometimes the help of a trained professional.

Here is what you can do in the meantime when you find your thoughts snowballing. I’m going to call this the STOP method. It’s very simple, and we’ll use the same snowballing example from above to see how it works.

  • Your internet is down, and you’re frustrated.
  • Great. You work from home and it’s going to be hours before they can get someone out to fix the problem. STOP.
  • Your boss is going to be furious that you are late to start your work day. STOP.
  • They are probably going to remember this around annual review time. STOP.
  • You were really counting on that good review and raise to be able to do a necessary repair on your home. STOP.
  • The roof is never going to get fixed. STOP.
  • What if there is a huge storm and part of the roof collapses? STOP.
  • What if you’re inside when that happens? STOP.
  • You are going to die young. STOP.

Try this a few times, and your brain will eventually get the hint. You will likely find the snowball doesn’t get as big as it used to.

purple background with white text that says "Snowballing thoughts: What are they + how you can make them stop ASAP?" and a black and white photo of a sad man with his head in his hand sitting on a couch

How to think more positively

Here a 5 things that have helped me to be a more positive person over the last few years. None of them are perfect tools. I still have days where I’m negative and needing some support. But in general, my outlook on life has changed drastically.

Tip 1- Stop reading so many news headlines

There is so much political tension right now, and so much worrying information about the pandemic. It’s good to stay updated on things going on in the world, but going down the Google/Snopes/Twitter rabbithole is not doing your anxiety any favors.

Try and limit your news consumption to 5 minutes or less a day. If there is something vital to your safety and wellbeing to be aware of, it will show up at the top of your newsfeed. Social media algorithms are smart like that.

Tip 2- Consume less social media

The same goes for social media. Social media plays a huge role in your mental health. It contributes to worsened anxiety, depression, and self esteem.

I’ve been making it a priority to not mindlessly scroll. I go on to check my notifications, and then go to the profiles of people I want to personally connect with. I’m not always successful and sometimes I find myself falling down the scrollhole. But I’m trying, and it really helps.

Tip 3- Practice affirmations daily

I started practicing positive affirmations off and on a few years ago, and I have really found them to be helpful. They’re super simple, but remember: they can take a while to have any kind of positive effect. So be patient.

Start slowly. Focus on the one area of your life that your negative thoughts center around the most. Maybe it’s your physical appearance. Make it a goal to wake up every morning and tell yourself, “I am beautiful inside and out.”

At first it will feel silly. It might even stir up negative feelings of shame or resentment. But give it time. Do it for 30 days and see if you feel any better. Check out this video for more ideas for morning positive affirmations.

Tip 4- Think objectively about your situation

This can be the most challenging piece of advice here, but it’s really important. People tend to not like this advice because it involves a high level of accountability that our depression and anxiety robs us of. But here’s the tea:

If you cannot objectively look at your mental health situation, you will never get better. Share on twitter

I lived on my little depression island for so long. Instead of saying, “Oh shit. I am trapped here without a boat, without food, or sunscreen, or a phone,” I found myself saying, “But look at the view. I can build a sandcastle all by myself without anyone knocking it down. And I can listen to the waves crash as I’m falling asleep.”

Dude.

Alright, I get it. We are fighting like hell to normalize mental health and erase the stigma. I know I am. I long to live in a world where every person can talk about their emotional health without shame.

But what we have to remember is, depression is not a normal state of mind. Neither is anxiety. It ought to be our goal to eventually try to be well. Not to fall into the trap of thinking we can be cured, but taking steps to use some driftwood to build a damn raft and get off the island.

Tip 5- Write your worries down

I find writing my feelings down makes them easier to process. When you write something down, you can look at it written in black and white and reflect on it at your own pace. It helps you recognize whether or not you’re catastrophizing or stating fact.

journal, journaling for mental health, anxiety, snowballing thoughts

Journaling is so good for your mental health in general, so if you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend it.

Make positive thoughts a priority

While I understand that it’s not easy, it really is important for your mental health to try to get rid of snowballing negative thoughts. You deserve to live a happy life, not one where you’re constantly plagued by doubt, and guilt, and sadness.

If anything, it doesn’t hurt to try to think positive thoughts more often. So give it a try, and remain open to the possibilities.

Click this image to share it on Pinterest!

Do you find yourself consumed by snowballing thoughts? Let me know about it in the comments. And make sure to share this post on social media, using the share bar at the top. You never know who it might help.

Don’t let negative thinking ruin your life!


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Related posts for negative thinking and anxiety:

11 stress management techniques that will save your sanity

Eating for depression and anxiety: How you can eat better and feel better

How to be motivated even though you are anxious

Positive thinking every day: How you can find joy in the little things

The Life-Changing 21 Day Happiness Challenge That You Need to Get Involved In

28 thoughts on “Snowballing thoughts: What are they + how can you make them stop ASAP? (Series part 2)”

    1. Hey Karin! I’m so glad you liked it. Hope it helps next time you get snowballing thoughts. Thanks for reading!

  1. Social media can be very good at creating these snowballing thoughts. It is something that can really get out of hand. great article!

  2. I really enjoyed this. I like how many different resources/methods you provided for trying to combat the snowballing thoughts. I also particularly enjoyed your metaphor of the island. It’s not normal to have depression or anxiety. It’s a valid thing and it’s okay, but it’s not a default, functional state. We should make the effort to build our raft and get off the island. Love it!

    1. Thank you! I appreciate the feedback! I’m just not really a fan of the whole “It’s totally normal, so just accept it.” I don’t buy into that. To each their own I guess, but that’s not my cup of tea. Thanks for reading!

  3. Wonderful article that teaches guidance. I’ve had “snowball” thought of worry, I just didn’t know there was an actual term for it. Thank you!

  4. Thinking more positively & having control of our thoughts are so important. I’ve made it a habit to practice gratitude daily, journaling & repeating affirmations – and they have helped so much. Thank you for sharing!

  5. To be honest, I am bit worried because of the things that are happening to our world right now. But I am so thankful to read this article because it guides me to stay cool, calm and positive in times of difficult situations. Thank you so much for the tips!

    1. No problem! I feel the same way. It’s hard to keep a level head right now. Hang in there, and thanks for reading!

  6. I think it’s amazing the way the mind works. I get carried away often in my thoughts. I am very aware of my tendencies and still I roll right along with it. My daughter is my exact copy. Virtually a mini me. Often it’s not until I witness her doing these things that I can truly see my own process. Often times I can recognize the pattern in her immediately. In my own actions it’s not so easy to catch it.

    1. My thoughts seem to have a mind of their own these days too. I have to constantly remind myself that most of the thoughts are not logical or based in fact. Just my own imagination. It’s good that you can recognize it in your daughter, that way you can help her. Thanks for reading!

  7. Wonderful advice. Everything is in chaos, but maintaining a positive outlook is so helpful. We all have no choice but to power through this so making the best of it by turning bad situations around is key. Building strength and positivity is what we all need to do most! Thank you for sharing.

  8. I totally needed to read this today. My mind sometimes feels like a never-ending racing machine and I really wished I had a STOP button. Thank you so much for the Affirmation video, practicing positive affirmation truly helps.

    1. I think it does too! It takes times and practice, but it’s at least worth a try. Hope you feel better. Thanks for reading!

  9. This is an amazingly helpful post on how to stop negative thoughts from snowballing. I will need these as I potentially head back to me classroom this fall. I have so many unspoken concerns that I just need to write down and address.

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