Five Ways to Deal With Mental Filters

In Tuesday’s breakdown of mental health terms, I wrote about mental filters, what they look like and how they appear in our lives. Mental filters can go my many names, but what’s important to know is that they can impact the way we view the world. When mental filters go unchallenged for too long, they can change the way we think, the way we perceive what’s going on around us. Filtered thinking can become instinctual without us realizing and have a severe impact on our thought patterns. Today, I want to look at five things you can do when dealing with mental filters and filtered thinking.

Notice your mental filters

One of the reasons mental filters can grow into harmful thought patterns is because they go unchecked. My filtering went unchecked and unchallenged for years, to the point where I just thought that’s who I was. Mental filters have a way of clouding your brain, and making you think that’s just how your thought process is. Even if you can’t stop yourself from filtering, noticing when it’s happening is a big first step.

Replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts (easier said than done)

When you’re able, try to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. They could be positive thoughts about your situation or yourself in general; any positive thoughts are going to help. For a long time, I was under the impression that positive thoughts were thoughts that improved my mood or made me happy. With time, I’ve learned that while that’s sometimes the case, it’s not the only purpose of positive thinking. In this case, positive thoughts are directly challenging the negative ones, trying to find a healthy balance where your brain can rest. Even if it’s only occasionally, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is worth trying.

Recognize your thought patterns

I’ll be honest – I don’t always know why I have the thoughts I do. Some things just pop in my head, never to be thought again. Other times, it’s like a thought can’t get out of my head for hours. Even though I don’t understand every thought or why it’s there, there are patterns. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize these patterns – what they look like, and what triggers them. I can’t always stop these patterns from occurring and I won’t recognize them every time. But the effort I put in to recognize these patterns, and try to combat them when they occur, will grow stronger over time.

Call it out for what it is

The terms mental filters, filtered thinking, or filtered thoughts aren’t as widely known as other psychological terms, and that’s something that needs to change. When we can name something for what it is – or name what we’re doing, what’s going on in our brain – we can lessen the damage or confusion around it. The times I’ve been able to recognize my filtering and call it out for what it is, I feel better. I feel more equipped to handle these thoughts and even though they might still make me anxious, the impact is lessened.

Separate the good from the bad

This might be the most obvious thing in the world, but not all of our thoughts are bad. In fact, for some of us the majority of our thoughts aren’t bad. But there is a fixation we can have on negative thoughts, where it feels like we have much more of them than actually exist. By separating the positive thoughts from the negative ones, we can compare and contrast how big of a challenge we’re up against. One negative thought has the power and ability to outweigh several positive ones, especially when we fixate on it. By actively trying to separate these thoughts, we can prove that more often than not, positive thoughts are buzzing around in our brain – it’s just harder to locate them.

What are your thoughts on mental filters, or filtered thinking? Have you heard of this term? How do you try to deal with filtered thinking? Let me know in the comments!

"All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions." - Leonardo da Vinci

Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What is a Thought Spiral?

Over the years, I’ve learned a number of words, phrases and definitions that have helped me understand my own mental health. Some of these are connected to mental illness or medicine, while others are connected to mental wellness. In this recurring series, I break down some of the mental health terms I’ve learned over the years. Today, I’ll be breaking down thought spirals: what they are, what they look like and what we can do about them.

What is a Thought Spiral?

There are many other names it goes by (anxiety spiral, downward spiral, spiraling thoughts) but simply put, a thought spiral is a series of thoughts that become increasingly overwhelming as a person gets stuck on them. They are typically linked to anxiety and anxious thoughts, but thought spirals can also exist when people are experiencing depression or other mental illness.

Another similar term (or perspective to think about this term) are the cognitive distortions catastrophic thinking and magnification. Both of these cognitive distortions can happen when a person’s thoughts have been spiraling out of control. Whether they are becoming increasingly overwhelming or unrealistic, our thoughts can spiral out of control and lead us into believing things that are simply untrue. When thoughts turn from rational to irrational, it’s time to take a look at what’s happening in our brain.

What Does a Thought Spiral Look Like?

One of the tricky things about thought spirals (at least for me) is how they can sneak up on us. Sometimes our thoughts will lay dormant, not bothering us at all. But then an intrusive or negative thought could enter our brains and if we’re unwilling or unable to acknowledge it, it gets stuck in our head. Before you know it, one thought has piled on another, and your thoughts are spiraling in a much more negative or overwhelming direction than you’d anticipated.

An excellent example of a thought spiral (image via

As someone who has to be aware of thought spirals on a daily basis, I’ve gained a better sense of when I’m susceptible to thought spirals. Simply put, there are just some roads of thinking I don’t need to go down because I know what could happen. That doesn’t mean I’m always successful, but that bit of awareness has helped my mental wellness in ways that are invaluable. Thought spirals have the same method, but the unique properties of it – what those thoughts are, and how they’re triggered – will look different for everyone.

What Can We Do About It?

In my opinion, the most important thing we can do when it comes to this topic is to be as open and honest as we can. I think that all of us should be aware of thought spirals because they can happen to anyone. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety or depression might make me more susceptible to thought spirals. But also, anyone can land in a situation where they aren’t thinking as clearly as usual.

Recognizing a thought spiral isn’t always easy, but awareness is the first step. If you notice when your thoughts are getting increasingly overwhelming, name it and acknowledge it. When I can name or define something about my mental health, the challenge to overcome that obstacle eases. Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about other tips and techniques for dealing with thought spirals but in the meantime, I hope that awareness is helpful!

For a long time, I experienced thought spirals but never knew what they were. Now I want to hear from you! Have you heard of thought spirals, or do you know them by another name? What is/was your experience with them? Let me know in the comments!

Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What Are Automatic Negative Thoughts?

I’d been in therapy for a few years when I first heard the phrase automatic negative thoughts for the first time. It wasn’t hard to deduce the meaning of the phrase, but I found it interesting nonetheless. Like everyone else, I deal with negative thoughts every single day. They might be about myself or other things, but one thing is certain: they’re negative. It’s the automatic part that I find interesting, and I wanted to learn more about this concept. That’s why today, I’ll be breaking down what automatic negative thoughts are, what they look like, and what we can do about them.

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Five Reminders About Negative Thoughts

Earlier this week, I wrote about the persistence of negative thoughts and how I manage them on a daily basis. Even though negative thoughts are a big part of my mental health journey, I’ve learned some things over the years that have helped manage my approach to negative thoughts and the power they have over me. Today, I wanted to share five reminders that I repeat on a daily basis when I manage my negative thoughts.

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The Persistence of Negative Thoughts

I don’t always like to start off my posts with ‘this week in therapy’ but….this week in therapy, I absent-mindedly brought up the fact that my negative thoughts have been more present lately. When I reflect on my negative thoughts, I don’t really view them as something to get rid of at this point. They’re here, they’re not going anywhere, and I need to figure out how to deal with them. However, it bothers me that my negative thoughts are very persistent. They can come and go whenever they want, and the hardest time to deal with them is when I forget they exist.

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