Getting Out Of Thinking Traps
It’s easy to fall into negative thinking patterns and spend time bullying yourself, dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. It’s part of how we’re wired – the human brain reacts more intensely to negative events than to positive ones and is more likely to remember insults than praise. During tough times, negative thoughts are especially likely to spiral out of control. When these thoughts make something out to be worse in your head than it is in reality, they are called cognitive distortions.
- Of people who took an anxiety screen at mhascreening.org in 2020, 64% felt afraid, as if something awful might happen at least half of the time or nearly every day. 
- Half of the people who took a depression screen at mhascreening.org in 2020 felt that they were a failure or had let themselves or their families down nearly every day. 
- One study found that 85% of what we worry about never happens at all, and in the 15% of times where worries came true, 79% of people handled the difficulty better than expected or learned a valuable lesson. 
Common Cognitive Distortions
Overgeneralization: Making a broad statement based on one situation or piece of evidence.
Personalization: Blaming yourself for events beyond your control; taking things personally when they aren’t actually connected to you.
Filtering: Focusing on the negative details of a situation while ignoring the positive.
All-or-Nothing Thinking: Only seeing the extremes of a situation.
Catastrophizing: Blowing things out of proportion; dwelling on the worst possible outcomes.
Jumping to Conclusions: Judging or deciding something without all the facts.
Emotional Reasoning: Thinking that however you feel is fully and unarguably true.
Discounting the Positive: Explaining all positives away as luck or coincidence.
“Should” Statements: Making yourself feel guilty by pointing out what you should or shouldn’t be doing, feeling, or thinking.
Tips for Challenging Negative Thoughts
Reframe. Think of a different way to view the situation. If your negative thought is “I can’t do anything right,” a kinder way to reframe it is, “I messed up, but nobody’s perfect,” or a more constructive thought is “I messed up, but now I know to prepare more for next time.” It can be hard to do this when you’re feeling down on yourself, so ask yourself what you’d tell your best friend if they were saying those things about themselves.
Prove yourself wrong. The things you do impact how you feel – what actions can you take to combat your negative thoughts? For instance, if you’re telling yourself you aren’t smart because you don’t understand how the stock market works, learn more about a subject you understand and enjoy, like history. If you feel like no one cares about you, call a friend. Give yourself evidence that these thoughts aren’t entirely true.
Counter negative thoughts with positive ones. When you catch your inner dialogue being mean to you, make yourself say something nice to balance it out. This may feel cheesy at ÿrst and self-love can be hard, so don’t give up if it feels awkward in the beginning. Name things you love, like, or even just don’t hate about yourself – we all have to start somewhere!
Remember: thoughts aren’t facts. Your thoughts and feelings are valid, but they aren’t always reality. You might feel ugly, but that doesn’t mean you are. Often times we can be our own worst enemies – other people are seeing us in a much nicer light than how we see ourselves.
1. Proprietary data. MHAScreening.org. 2020.
3. Matthews, G., Wells, A. (2000). Attention, automaticity, and affective disorder. Behavior Modification, 24, 69-93.