This week we’ll continue to look at ways to question and challenge some of the faulty ways of thinking that may contribute to anxiety. These tips can be used to help our children question their thinking too, as it’s far easier to learn these sorts of skills at a young age rather than changing many years of habitual faulty thinking.
All-or-nothing (also referred to as black-or-white) thinking refers to thinking in extremes. A person might think, “If I’m not perfect, I’m a complete failure!” Dora has changed her way of eating, and has avoided eating junk foods for several weeks. Yesterday she had a small cake at a colleague’s birthday celebration. She berates herself calling herself a complete failure for ‘breaking her diet’. For her there is no grey area – she either succeeds or fails. Dora could challenge these thoughts by reminding herself that what she eats most of the time has more impact on her health than an infrequent slip-up does. She could also consider what she might say to a friend in her situation. Most people would never tell a friend they failed, but to look at what’s been done right or well. She could then practice self-compassion and say the same thing to herself.
Somebody who is prone to personalization tends to blame him/herself for things over which they have no control and consequently feel guilty a lot of the time. Philip is in upper primary school. He’s a well-behaved boy in class. Several of his classmates have created a disturbance in class and their teacher chastises the whole class about their behaviour. Even though Philip has done nothing wrong, he takes the teacher’s comments personally and feels guilty. It’s helpful to try and recognize when you’re taking something too personally and tell yourself it’s not about you.
Filtering occurs when we only focus on the negative aspects of something and completely ignore the positive ones. People who practice filtering are often overly self-critical. I have been guilty of this in the past when studying and completing assessments. I would get excellent overall feedback and even a good mark for the assignment, but I would go through the comments and focus on all the little negative ones, telling myself the lecturer must think I wasn’t very smart. The best way to overcome this is to be honest with ourselves. Acknowledge the negative aspects of something, but then recognize the positive ones. Realistically consider whether the negative ones really do outweigh the positive points.
The way we think determines how we feel. So much of a person’s anxiety stems from cognitive distortions (faulty thinking). Next week, we’ll look at some more patterns of thinking and in the following weeks, consider some practical steps we can take to help manage anxiety.