Skip to Main Content

Anxiety and Stress

You are in the main content
Cover Photo Image

Unhelpful Ways of Thinking

All-or-Nothing: Instead of viewing things on a continuum, you see situations in distinct categories. One category represents goodness, success, intelligence, or beauty. The other options are badness, failure, stupidity, or ugliness. With all-or-nothing thinking, the positive category is really difficult to achieve because anything less than perfect is failure. Even a partial success is difficult, if not impossible, to value or appreciate.

Fortune Telling & Catastrophizing: You tend to predict the future, which is often the worst case scenario, even if it is unlikely. You are typically confident in your predictions, even if there is little evidence to support your claims. “I’ll be too anxious to speak” “I won’t know what to say” “I’ll never get a job” “I’ll look like an idiot” “I’ll always be alone.” Convincing yourself that you will fail or something terrible will happen, often leads to avoidance. Avoidance prevents you from ever gathering new evidence and practicing new skills. This is a frustrating and isolating pattern. You never get closer to what you want because you are convinced that if you try, you will fail.

Disqualifying the positive: You frequently minimize or discount your positive behaviors. You ignore or reject positive experiences in a way that undermines your successes. You explain away positives by attributing them to something external. “I had a good conversation with them, but they were really easy to talk to.” “I only got a good grade because I got lucky.” You refuse to take credit for your part in the process. This allows you to maintain beliefs that you cannot really handle difficult situations, which prevents you from building confidence.

Mind Reading: You think you know exactly what someone is thinking and how they will react to you. However, you have not bothered to actually get their feedback or check the accuracy of your beliefs. You believe that someone is thinking negatively about you and act as if it were true. This keeps you from ever really knowing what people think or how they perceive you.

Should Statements: You have fixed, rigid, beliefs about how you and everyone should behave and act. These are often precise, somewhat perfectionistic standards. “I should always be in control” “I must always be perfect” “I should never get anxious.” These often create extremely high, usually impractical standards. These standards are often applied to others when you notice yourself feeling angry, hostile, or annoyed. Do you have a set of rules about how you and others should act?

Emotional Reasoning: You believe that because you feel something strongly, that it must be true, even if there is evidence to the contrary. Intense emotions are difficult to ignore and may be the most salient component of an experience or interaction. However, emotions do not necessary represent reality. Just because you are feeling really anxious during a conversation does not mean it is going badly. Your anxiety is real, but it might not be an accurate reflection of the interaction, your performance, or noticeable to anyone but you. Feelings are not facts.

Labeling: You apply concrete, global labels to yourself or others with little consideration. You summarize situations, yourself, and others with unforgiving, negative labels. There is a difference between commenting on a mistake you made compared to labeling yourself an idiot. Labeling often ignores context. “I am a complete idiot” “She is an insensitive jerk.” These labels often prevent you from coping with the situation. Instead, they often make you feel hopeless and stuck. If you truly believe that you are incompetent or that they are a jerk, why bother trying to work on it?

Filtering: You focus on a single detail and miss the whole situation, sort of like a mental “tunnel vision.” You might even have a particular sensitivity toward only remembering depressing, anxious, critical or angry details. This process magnifies your distress because it takes aspects of the situation out of context.