Head Trash: How to Free Yourself of Negative Thinking Patterns

By Val Silver

Are you ready to reduce and eliminate the head trash and negative thinking?

Yes, some negative thinking is natural thanks to the brain's bias for negativity as a way of protecting us from danger. But a good measure of it stems from habitual patterns of procrastination, ruminating, woe is me, people-pleasing, complaining, and blaming that keep you feeling stressed out, sad, and stuck. These thinking patterns, or head trash, can make it impossible for you to fully relax because of the distressing thoughts churning in the foreground (and background) of your mind. 

If you identify with one or more of these patterns, and the mind chatter that keeps you stuck in them (and who can't?), the following principles and techniques offer a positive approach for relieving the mental stress caused by holding on to long-held limiting beliefs, past negative situations and emotionally charged self-talk patterns that bring you down instead of lifting you up. 

There are many ways to deal with everyday stress. To really ease and erase head trash, you have to do deeper inner work. This inner work helps you alleviate habitual negative self talk and the stressful emotional states that accompany it. It encourages a positive change of mental and physical habits, attitudes, and beliefs. 

Note: Sometimes, doing inner work creates a ripple effect of temporary additional mental distress. Change is always a bit stressful. Also, making shifts in yourself and choices that threaten the status quo can upset other people. When this happens, use your favorite techniques to relieve mental stress and anxious feelings or seek professional help. Otherwise, you may get derailed and fall back into old patterns.

9 Ways to Reduce Stressful Head Trash 

These 9 steps will help you start freeing yourself of negative thinking patterns and other head trash that keeps you feeling stressed and unhappy.

The payoff of using these techniques is that when you free yourself of the head trash, you will feel triggered to react less often. Over time, a natural by-product of these mental shifts  is a greater sense of inner calm. joy, and resilience.  Better health and a more relaxed mind and body will be your rewards.

Practice judgement-free awareness.

No matter whichever steps or techniques you use to free yourself of negative thinking patterns, judgement-free awareness is always the starting point. Take some time to observe your stress triggers, how you react, and the ways you try to cope with the distress. Tune into what happens in your mind and body. You will notice certain symptoms, such as shallow breathing or restricted vision. However, much of what happens in the brain and body during times of stress are not consciously noticeable. 

Jot down in your journal exactly what happened and how you reacted in mind, body, and action. If you know why, write that down, too. Don't censor yourself.  Let it all out. 

2. Shift your perceptions.

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but it is not a situation that is stressful, but rather your perception of it. This is why people react to the same exact circumstances differently. Some people feel traumatized. Others feel mildly upset. Others may find the silver lining. Depending on how you perceive what happened, how and to what extent you believe it affects your life, and how much control you feel, determines if and how strongly you trigger your stress response.

When you embrace the mentality of being a victim, you blame and complain. The truth is that, even though bad things beyond your control do happen, you are ultimately responsible for your own thoughts and actions. When you shift your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs, your responses and actions naturally change.

3. Be in the present moment.

Bringing your attention to the present moment is a great way to relieve mental stress. Many people get all worried and upset fearing what may happen in the future or regretting what happened in the past. The truth is that the past and present only exist in your imagination. The mental habit of reliving past events and imagining negative future events causes distress in mind and body as your brain responds with chemical signals as if it were real and happening now. 

When you project yourselves into the past and future you sacrifice the energy and attention you could be using to live a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life right now. 

The Work, by Byron Katie, illustrates this principle beautifully.

4. Use the 'thought stopping' technique. 

Remember how people used to snap a rubber band on their wrists to remind themselves of something? Well, the same method can be used to snap you out of a negative thinking pattern. This popular psychotherapy technique was introduced by Dr. Joseph Wolpe in the 1950s to help his patients interrupt phobic, obsessive thoughts.  Equally important as stopping head trash from overtaking your thoughts is step two of the process.  After you stop the thought, acknowledge it. Then replace the negative thought with a positive affirmation or thought. Tell yourself the real truth.


  1. You tell yourself, "I'm a fat slob, I'm a loser, I can't do anything right. What's wrong with me?"
  2. Snap the rubber band or say "Stop. Don't go there."
  3. Acknowledge that you had the thoughts and felt the emotion behind them for a few seconds only.
  4. Tell yourself the real truth and affirm the positive. "I may be overweight but I am still a good person who does plenty of things right. I am worthy of love and self-respect."

5. Let go of emotional baggage.

Relieving mental stress by getting rid of old traumas, attitudes, thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve you is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Remember that the bodymind responds the same way whether an event is real or imagined.

When you relive old traumas over and over, you create a state of chronic stress that could have long term health consequences.

You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can discard the head trash you thought you would have to live with forever. Meridian tapping and energy flow techniques can help. I have personally worked with people who released the energetic charge of unhappy memories after holding on to them for fifty years! It is not that you forget them, it is that your perceptions and  emotional states shift. 

head trash

6. Live a clutter-free life.

De-cluttering your external environments is just as important as cleaning out your head trash. Your environments are often a reflection of your inner world. Likewise, creating calmer, more positive environments influence your inner landscape. Get rid of stuff you no longer want or need and organize the things you keep.

Cluttered or dirty spaces are associated with more chaotic beta brain waves and higher stress levels. Clean, orderly spaces induce more productive, creative, relaxed alpha brainwaves. Uncluttered open spaces feel better and are more conducive to a healthy, supportive, positive energy flow.

Here is a simple Feng Shui exercise to try for a week or more: Throw out or donate 27 unneeded items every day. Everything, including junk mail counts!

7. Recognize that you have choices.

Approach your life from a place of personal empowerment, not entrapment. This is one of the best ways to deal with stress-triggering situations that normally put you in a tailspin. Even though you cannot always choose what is done to you, you can choose how to respond.

Everything you do and think is a choice. Getting up for work in the morning is a choice. Eating junk food is a choice. So is saying "yes" to another project and letting repetitive negative thoughts drain your energy and haunt you mercilessly. 

Become conscious of your unconscious choices and accept responsibility for all of them. Adopting this mindset empowers you. It shows you that you have more control of yourself in a given situation than you may think. Feeling a sense of control is important for keeping feelings of distress and its accompanying head trash talk at bay.  

What choice can you make right now to move you in the direction of a healthier, happier life? Take one small step to affirm that choice as soon as possible.

8. Become more attuned to your true desires and rhythms.

Listen to what your heart, mind and body are telling you. Perhaps some of what you are calling head trash is really not head trash at all. Perhaps, even though it sounds negative, your inner voice is giving you an important message. There is a positive side to some negative self talk. Tune into those messages and honor them. Have you been neglecting your needs and heart's desires? Also, be aware that as you evolve and change through different stages of your life, your likes, dislikes, needs, and desires may also change. 

Developing this kind of unconditional love and  acceptance towards yourself and others will reduce that seemingly constant undercurrent of mental stress. Let yourself off the hook sometimes. Make time for doing activities you enjoy and spend time with people you love. Release what no longer resonates with you. Do you really have to keep that vase you now think is ugly just because you spent money on it, or is that head trash talking?

9. Take care of yourself physically. 

When you feel good and your body is healthy, you are more resilient mentally and emotionally in a wider range of stressful circumstances.

Practicing habits of healthy living naturally lowers your stress load.  Research shows that getting enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise makes you less prone to feeling mentally distressed and suffering from its ill effects. Exercising causes your brain to release feel good endorphins. When you lack certain vitamins, minerals or sleep, you feel more tense in your body, making you more susceptible to outside triggers.

If you are like me, after three sleep deprived nights your nerves are on edge and you are no fun to be around. I get quite crabby and reactive. My very unpleasant, unproductive, unkind head trash talk runs rampant. On the other hand, when well rested and feeling good, that kind of self talk is much less prevalent and much easier to shift when it does show itself.

The benefits of dealing with stressful head trash can be profound and positively life-changing. Implementing them is an on-going process requiring consistency and diligence, especially at first. Do not get discouraged.

If you get stuck or would like assistance, seek help from a life coach or mental health provider. Remember that even small shifts can reap big rewards, not only as a way to relieve mental stress, but in all areas of your life. Over time you will notice your head trash talk diminishing, and you truly are not bothered by the same things. When you do get triggered, you are generally less reactive and rebound quicker.

Reminder: If you are under professional care for mental health issues, or have serious mental issues that may require professional assistance, please consult with your health care provider before using techniques presented on this page and throughout the site.

Related Pages

Dealing with Head Trash page updated 08/2021

Source: Use ‘Thought Stopping' Techniques to Shield Yourself from a Spiral of Negative Thinking

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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