By Sarah - July 23, 2020

How I escaped the Negative Thought Spiral

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The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered the largest recession in over a century and is causing lasting damage to people’s heath, jobs, and well being.  In these unprecedented times when the future of the UK theatre industry remains in flux, we’re experiencing mass redundancies, contract terminations and project extensions without deadlines or even retained pay in most cases.

…Wow, that all sounds rather negative, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I want to stop reading this article, pour myself a large G&T and get back to my Grey’s Anatomy marathon…

Spiral of Rumination

Let’s take a shallow dive into the effects of negative emotions for a moment; Psychological research into Response Styles theory suggests spending too much time dwelling on negative emotions and the situations that might have caused them, could mean descending into a spiral of rumination1. As a species we have evolved to avoid fear and anxiety like the plague (quite literally…thanks Covid!). Fear springs from the biological law of self-preservation2; we instinctively run away from the big scary bear in the woods because it will probably eat you (and your entire family). Instead, we seek happiness and comfort in everything we do. 

Fast-forward to modern day life in the western world and the scary bear is replaced by everyday things like: stage fright, your mean boss, that email you don’t want to open or that bill you can’t pay. We don’t want to feel the negative emotions associated with those things, so we ‘flee’ by using any number of emergency exit routes! Perhaps it’s making a 5th cup of tea in order to avoid making a phone call, eating an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s, closing Outlook (if we didn’t read the email, it doesn’t exist, right?) … you get the idea. We avoid the bad feeling at ALL COSTS. So when we get bad news about our jobs and our industry amidst a huge global pandemic, our immediate response is to PANIC and RUN/HIDE.

The bad news is that without taking a breath to look at the floor plan of the burning building in which we find ourselves, we inevitably end up running down the wrong set of stairs and getting stuck in what I like to call the NEGATIVE THOUGHT SPIRAL.

Thoughts produce Feelings

Consider this first: feelings are a direct result of the thought you have about a situation. It’s possible for two people to have two very different thoughts about the exact same situation, and produce two different results. For example, if it’s raining outside, person one might think “I have an excuse to stay inside and watch Disney+. Yay!” while the other will think “My picnic is ruined! Oh no!”. Person one has a happy feeling, person two has a sad feeling. Same situation, two different thoughts, and therefore two different feelings. As Shakespeare once wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” 3

So let’s look at how this breaks down for anyone who’s lost their jobs this year and see how we can reframe the negative thinking:

Situation (fact): My contract has been terminated due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Thoughts (fiction!): I won’t find another job. There’s nothing I can do, it’s out of my control. I don’t have the right transferable skills. I should have listened to my parents and gone into banking instead! Substitute this for your own negative thoughts as appropriate…!

Feelings (caused by your thoughts): Hopeless, Anxious.

Action / Inaction (what you do to flee the thoughts): Dwell on my hopeless situation, watch an unhealthy amount of TV, witness my bank balance diminish, cry, throw things … etc.

Result: I’m still unemployed and I’m not motivated to look for another job. My thoughts are out of control. I really should have listened to my parents.

Notice how the negative result just confirms your negative thoughts. Around and down into the spiral you go. You proceed to Eat, Sleep, Ruminate, Repeat…and nothing changes.

Reframing Negative Beliefs

Now, you’ll be very pleased to know there’s a way out, which thanks to various coaching and Cognative Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques4, allow you to reframe your thoughts and get you running up the stairs out of the basement, towards a more helpful way of thinking.

To do this, we need to reframe the thoughts around the same situation, starting with what FEELING you want to have instead of all that anxiety, and asking yourself: what thoughts do I need to think, to have that feeling? (This part is trial and error, and takes time, so stick with it):

Situation (fact): My contract has been terminated due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

NEW Thoughts: I’m good at my job and I should still be employed, but the decision was out of my control (it was probably out of my manager’s control too!) It’s not personal, thousands of other people are in the same boat. I can get another job. There are other things I can do to make money. Substitute this for your own positive thoughts as appropriate…!

NEW Feeling: Confident, Calm.

Action / Inaction: Consider other forms of employment temporarily or permanently (click here for some methods to try); update your CV, explore training options, and/or sign up for coaching!

Result: I’m now taking control over my situation and feeling confident that I’m doing what I can to learn a new skill and/or earn an income. 

Again, see how the positive result reaffirms the positive thought you had about your situation. By reminding yourself daily of your positive thought spiral (I highly recommend writing yours down and sticking it to your mirror, or somewhere obvious), you can work your way up and out of your hopeless pit of despair and start walking calmly and steadily towards the nearest fire escape. It all starts with how you choose to frame your thoughts.


  1. ^ Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1991). Responses to depression and their effects on the duration of depressive episodes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100(4), 569–582.
  2. ^ Westermayr, Arthur J. (1915) “The Psychology of Fear.,” The Open Court: Vol. 1915 : Iss. 4 , Article 5.
  3. ^ Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Act 2, Sc. 2
  4. ^ Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive therapy and research, 36(5), 427–440.

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