Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Have you ever listened to what the angry little voice in your head is saying?

On a recent terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I took five minutes during my commute to tap into my brain's undercurrent. “How can other girls' hair be so sleek when they also get to work at six? Why haven't you written anything recently? That bread—you shouldn't have eaten that. You're a failure.”

Many of us regularly fight inner negativity. In most cases, these thoughts do nothing but harm, if we let them stick around: We can’t focus properly, we can’t relax, and we can’t stop thinking about failures and awful memories (you know, the sort of thoughts that wake you up at three in the morning).

And the effects aren’t contained within our heads. Not only does our negativity affect our mental health, it also ends up disturbing our lives in physical ways. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can be triggered by anything from nasty thoughts to bad news to external stressors, and it messes with everything from the digestive system to circadian rhythms (which explains why we often find ourselves unable to fall asleep or waking up at weird hours of the night when we’re too stressed). Furthermore, our wellbeing—or lack thereof—can take a toll on our relationships with family and friends, as well as our performance at work or school.

Fortunately, we can reverse these effects if we learn to adopt healthier patterns of thinking. It’s time to get off the hamster wheel of swirling mental negativity and change our lives from the inside out. Here’s how.

01. Practice mental uni-tasking.

Productive, happy places are clear, calm, and full of energy. In order to make our headspaces reflect that atmosphere, we have to give our minds a break once in a while to reset. One great way to establish that baseline is through the practice of mental uni-tasking. Maybe you already practice some form of it, like mindfulness or meditation—if so, great! But for those of us who have yet to begin, let’s make it even simpler.

Mental uni-tasking is the equivalent of spending a few minutes closing the 109 tabs you have open in your brain’s internet browser. Everything runs more smoothly once that’s done, right?

This may not seem like a big deal, but clearing off your mental slate pays off. It helps your brain go into super-mode: Decision-making, creative thinking, and problem solving abilities soar. It helps treat and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia. It makes your body healthier: People who take the time to clear their mind statistically have lower instances of heart disease, inflammatory syndromes, and brain disorders.

Very little time—one to five minutes a day, but consistently—is all you need.

Set a timer and focus on one thing for a few minutes: your breath, tea, a blank wall, even something like the feeling of hot water on your hands as you wash dishes or gratitude for a family member. When another thought pops up, don’t get frustrated; acknowledge it, and go back to your focus. The act of corralling your thoughts is what helps your brain reset and is a sign that you’re doing okay.

02. Worry less—or more effectively.

Now that our headspaces are clear, we need to stop them from getting cluttered and frantic. Much of the noise that goes on in our heads boils down to “worry.”

Worrying is a special breed of negative thought because it originates from a place of responsibility. We want to do well on a test, so we dread it; we love our family, so we get worked up over their safety. These are good things—in moderation. Here are a few ways to lessen stress and worrying where we can:

Schedule time to worry. 

This appeals to our responsible sides. It sounds counterintuitive, but if we can trick our brains into thinking that an upcoming stressful event is “covered,” we’re free to think of something else now—instead of worrying both now and later.

Don’t assume the worst-case scenario. 

I’m often anxious about what feels like passive-aggressive punctuation in a text message, and I tend interpret a gently closed door as a personal attack. This prompts untold minutes of agonizing on my part. Remember Occam’s razor: There’s usually a very simple explanation for other people’s actions that does not victimize you. Believe that.

Focus on yourself. 

If our worry is coming from feelings of inferiority, we need to remember that everyone feels that way. Comparison and the needless self-scrutiny we put ourselves through is especially pertinent now: It just takes a single scroll through Instagram to show us scads of people who appear to be doing everything right, which our hypersensitive brain often interprets as: “You’re doing things wrong.” Remember that we are all different—and, importantly, that we can appreciate others’ beauty and success without comparing it to our own.

Emphasize gratitude. 

We all have things to worry about, some big and some small. However, it is also true that we have so much good going on in our lives—good that often gets eclipsed by stress. When we focus on the good, our lives feel more abundant, and problems seem lighter. Get creative: What joys are there in your life right now?

03. Adopt a growth mindset.

We are human, and we change. In fact, our ability to bring about our own change is one of our unique qualities as humans.

Consider a few of your own recurrent negative thoughts. Besides their unpleasantness, what do they have in common? Likely their sense of permanence. The silent conclusions to these thoughts often squelch any ideas of improvement or escape. “And you’ll always be like that.” “And you can’t do anything about that.” “Must be awful to be you, because you’ll never change.”

Often, the very thoughts that are borne of our hyper-judgmental brain observing past and present behavior enable that behavior in the future. If we call ourselves “lazy,” our subconscious thinks, “Well, if I’m lazy, then I guess I do what lazy people do,” and we never get off the couch.

This is a deceptively simple switch to flick. “I never write anything,” I complain, and then (guess what), I don’t write. If I change the thought to, “I’m a writer, and I’m going through a rough spot, but I’m still a writer,” my subconscious thinks, “She’s a writer, so she must write sometimes.” My brain prompts me to go off and jot things down, and suddenly I have words to be proud of, and I think, “I’m a writer,” and then I write more.

Switching internal narratives from “I am ill to I am healing,” from “I am stupid” to “I am learning,” and from “I am bad” to “I am growing” acknowledges your current status while opening a way forward.

04. Be your own friend.

If you saw that someone was bullying a friend of yours, what would your initial response be? You would intervene and protect your friend, and tell the bullies to do something better with their lives. Easy.

Now, for a more difficult scenario: If you realized that you were bullying someone, what would you do? Even if you believed that you were in the right, or that your point was worth making, or that you were just having an off day yourself? This is far more difficult than diving into a bad place as the hero and saving the day, but it’s vastly more important. It involves admitting that you need to grow as a person and that the responsibility rests with you.

In our own heads, we are the bully and the victim. We’re often mean to ourselves without even realizing it. The Golden Rule reminds us, “Do unto others what you’d have them do to you,” but the reverse is likewise important: Be as kind to yourself as you would be to another person.

That’s it, in the end: We are all taught to be kind to those around us, but we often aren’t given the tools to help ourselves. If we’re in a good headspace, we’re happier, we can take care of ourselves better, and we continue to grow as individuals. If our minds are in the right places, we can be more supportive to others who are struggling and help our communities thrive. It’s a ripple effect: By making an effort to redirect your thinking, you can change lives for the better—beginning with your own.