Get started
What we treat
Why online therapy
How it works
How it works
Meet the therapists
Wellbeing blog
Log in
Read our latest blog

How to recognise when a worry or negative thought spirals into a mental health issue

October 23, 2023
Victoria Scott

We all worry about things from time to time, but what about when those worries start taking over your life? Perhaps they’re running on a constant loop in your head which makes it hard to concentrate on other things, or they cause you to change your behaviour. It’s important to take note when your worries become more frequent, or if they begin to seriously impact your life, as it’s possible that they’ve progressed into a mental health issue.

Signs that your mental health may be affected

  1. Sleep problems

Finding it hard to sleep, waking up prematurely or oversleeping. Read more about sleep problems here.

  1. Change in appetite

Feeling less hungry than normal or eating more than usual, perhaps to avoid negative thoughts and feelings.

  1. Irritability or feeling more emotional than usual

Regular emotional outbursts or sudden and dramatic mood swings.  

  1. Withdrawing from others

Isolating yourself, avoiding friends and family or no longer going out.  

  1. Feeling lethargic or tired

Struggling to find energy or motivation This can make it hard to concentrate, remember things or keep up with conversations.

  1. Physical symptoms

Mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, can manifest themselves physically. You might notice heart palpitations, headaches or sweating, to name a few symptoms. Read more about physical symptoms here.

  1. Struggling to enjoy anything

No longer enjoying doing things that used to bring you joy. For example, perhaps you used to play netball but you don’t feel interested in it any more.

What are unhelpful thinking styles?  

Sometimes, we develop patterns of thoughts or behaviours that are unhelpful, meaning that they impact us negatively. These thoughts can influence how we feel and behave, and if we’re not careful, they can take a toll on our mental health.

An example of an unhelpful thought pattern could be not feeling good enough. Perhaps in the past you’ve been made to feel this way, so now it’s something that you tell yourself. This thought might make you feel unconfident or even worthless, which prevents you from putting yourself out there in certain situations.

It’s important to get a hold on these thought patterns and address them sooner, rather than later. However, challenging unhelpful thinking styles can be difficult, especially at first. You’re undoing your own mental programming which takes a lot of practice and patience, but remember, even acknowledging that you’re stuck in an unhelpful thought cycle is progress.

How do you address an unhelpful thought pattern?

The first step is to identify your unhelpful thoughts and recognise them when they’re happening. Unhelpful thinking styles could look like expecting the worst outcome of every situation, ignoring the positive and only focusing on the negative side of a situation, or believing that you are the sole cause of a negative situation.

Once you know what your unhelpful thoughts look like, it’s time to reflect on the thought and examine how reliable it is. Ask yourself:  

  • Where has this thought come from?
  • How likely is the outcome that you’re worried about?
  • Is there evidence to support the thought?
  • Are there other ways that you could look at the situation?
  • What would you say to a friend if they were thinking this way?

Finally, it’s time to replace the thought with something more positive. For example, if the negative thought is ‘I’m going to fail’, you could reframe this to ‘I’m going to try my best to succeed, but if I don’t, that’s ok. There will be more opportunities.” Read more about unhelpful thinking styles here.

What is a downward spiral?

It’s common for people with depression to experience what’s known as a ‘downward spiral’. A downward spiral is where a repeated series of negative thoughts, feelings or actions cause your mental health to get progressively worse. By learning how to recognise a spiral, you’ll be able to manage or even prevent one next time.

A downward spiral could start with a low mood, which means that you struggle to muster the effort to do things like exercising, eating healthily or catching up with friends. This can make you feel stressed and overwhelmed because you’re out of your routine and missing out on opportunities. It can also mean that you become self-critical or feel guilty for not keeping on top of everything.

Signs of a downward spiral  

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feelings of stress or anxiety
  • Speaking to yourself in a negative way
  • Feeling easily irritated
  • Feeling tired or fatigued
  • No longer enjoying things you used to
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia

Taking care of your mental health

It’s normal for our mental health to fluctuate - we all experience highs and lows. However, by being proactive and practising self-care, we can attempt to manage the situation and hopefully prevent lows - or spirals - before they happen.  

Self-care can mean different things to different people, but essentially it means looking after yourself, physically and mentally. This could include saying no to things when you have too much on your plate, getting plenty of sleep, or it could be making time for an activity that allows you to unwind and recharge, like meditation or reading.

If you feel that your mental health is unmanageable, you might want to think about speaking with a professional. Going to your GP is a good place to start; they’ll be able to talk through what treatment options are available to you. They may suggest talking therapy, which is a service that we provide at ieso. Not sure whether you need therapy? This might help.

At ieso, we offer text-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for a range of common mental health issues. Patients can login from wherever they are and ‘speak’ with a therapist by typing back and forth. Our service is free for some NHS patients - find out how it works here.  

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
Awareness Days
6 Mins
October 9, 2023

Mental health affects us all. This means it's essential that mental health services are equally available to everyone, everywhere. This World Mental Health Day, 10th October, we explore the right to access care.

Awareness Days
5 mins
October 2, 2023

This week is National Work Life Week, a campaign led by the charity, Working Families, to get people talking about wellbeing at work and work-life balance.

Online CBT
8 Mins
September 25, 2023

Have you noticed a change in a friend or family member’s behaviour or mindset? Maybe they’re isolating themselves, worrying more than usual or acting erratically. Here are some tips on how you can support them.