What is Thought-Stopping? Therapy, Techniques, Exercises

Thought-stopping sounds simple, but overcoming negative thoughts takes knowledge, practice and support. Learn thought-stopping techniques on HealthyPlace.

Thought-stopping is a technique used to treat recurring negative thoughts in people with anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. If you've ever experienced intrusive or repetitive thoughts, you'll know that it's not just the thoughts themselves that cause problems. Many of these thoughts become automatic, leading to feelings of helplessness, anxiety and altered behavior. It can be challenging to break the cycle of negative thoughts, which is where thought-stopping can prove helpful.

What is Thought-Stopping Therapy?

Thought-stopping techniques are often used in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to help people deal with negative thought cycles and constant worrying. The basis of thought-stopping therapy is that once a negative thought arises, you should consciously issue a command for the thought to stop. The idea is that you then replace the thought with a more balanced or positive alternative.

Thought-stopping works for many people because it acts as a distraction from the negative thought, interrupting obsessive negative thoughts that tend to ruminate in the mind. Some people wear an elastic band they can ping against their skin to remind them to stop negative thought patterns, which can be helpful in the short-term.

Does Thought-Stopping Work?

Thought-stopping can be used successfully, but it is not advocated by all therapists. Some people find that trying to avoid negative thoughts only makes the thoughts stronger. Others find thought-stopping impossible. If you find that your negative thoughts are overwhelming, you may need to consult your doctor or therapist. This way, you will gain access to all of your treatment options and learn techniques to help you cope with challenging situations.   

Like all therapeutic techniques, thought-stopping should be overseen by a counselor or mental health professional; it is not something you should do without guidance. It also has to be combined with other strategies to be fully effective. In the meantime, however, there are many thought-stopping activities and exercises you can try at home.

Thought-Stopping Exercises to Try

The benefit of thought-stopping is that it makes you aware of unhelpful thought patterns and reminds you to stop and evaluate them. It can also give you a sense of control over your thoughts. However, thought-stopping alone is rarely successful. Once you’ve stopped a negative thought, you need to know what to do with it.

Here are some common thought-stopping CBT techniques:

Capture your thought: If you’re out of the house or at work, visualize yourself capturing the thought so you can work on it later. It’s helpful to write it down so you can remember it later.

Interrogate your thought: Stop your thought and take it to court. What business has it being in your head? Is there evidence to support what it is telling you? Is there another view that needs addressing?

Analyze your thought: Can you spot any unhealthy thought patterns, such as catastrophizing, personalizing or all or nothing thinking?

Talk to the thought: Imagine you are talking to a friend who has come to you with this problem. What would you say?

Create a thought-stopping worksheet: If you have time, write down your thought and dissect it. What kind of emotional and physical responses does it create? Can you spot any unhelpful beliefs in there, such as negative thoughts about yourself or the world? Where do they stem from?
While thought-stopping can change how you respond to automatic thoughts, it is not always the whole answer. Recurring negative thoughts can be symptomatic of an ongoing mental health condition which requires specific treatment ("Why Am I So Negative and Angry and Depressed?"). Negative thoughts can also arise due to environmental, or biological factors, so it is always best to discuss your symptoms with your health provider.

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APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 31). What is Thought-Stopping? Therapy, Techniques, Exercises, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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