Last week we examined the differences between anxiety and stress. This week we look at the thinking traps that exasperate and contribute towards anxiety and how to begin to notice and avoid them.
Thinking Traps to Notice and Avoid
There are several thinking traps that we can fall into which can either cause or contribute towards anxiety.
The key is to notice when we exhibit such thinking and dismiss the credibility of those thoughts, thereby stopping these thinking patterns becoming established.
I have listed them the most common thinking traps below so you too can recognize them when they emerge.
Black and white thinking
This is where we think in terms of everything being all or nothing and things are polarized into ‘either… or..’ extremes, with no middle ground. For example either I succeed at this or I am a total failure.
Evidence is drawn from one experience or a small set of experiences to reach an unwarranted conclusion with far-reaching implications. It is associated with words like ‘always or never’. For example, ‘I never succeed at anything’.
Undesirable or negative events, memories or implications are focused upon and enlarged. Positive or even neutral information is ignored, disqualified as irrelevant or viewed as exceptions to the rule. For example, ‘anyone can do that’.
We assume that we know others’ thoughts, intentions or motives. For example ‘he doesn’t like me’.
We predict negative outcomes prematurely. For example, ‘what is the point of trying, it won’t work out’.
This is often two-fold. Firstly there is probability distortion which is when we exaggerate the chances of a negative experience occurring, for example, ‘I know they won’t like me’.
Then there can be severity distortion whereby we exaggerate the consequences of what would happen if the negative experience did occur, for example, ‘they will say hateful things about me to each other behind my back’.
Should’s, must’s, aught to’s and have to’s
Absolutist demands upon yourself or others which dictate rigid standards or reflect unrealistic degree of presumed control over external events. For example ‘I must hand in this report to my director on time otherwise I will be fired’.
When we make unwarranted connections between ideas that are either unrelated or related in a different way. For example, ‘If I haven’t been given a raise in salary at work by now I never will – how will I will I be able to afford to have kids?’
Interpreting internal stimuli (such as increased heart rate or dizziness) as definite indications of impending catastrophe (heart attack, fainting).
Do you recognize any of these thinking traps? Can you give an example of a time when a thinking trap contributed to your anxiety? Do you think you will now be able to easily notice when you are falling into a thinking trap? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.
- List the thinking traps you regularly fall into.
- List the impact each thinking trap had upon you.
- Keep your list safe to use for next weeks series post!
Overcoming Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Helen Kennerley
Stay tuned – next week we will explore the healthy lifestyle choices we can make which serve to reduce our anxiety!