Know your thinking styles when under stress
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
We all think. Usually we think a lot. Being able to think about the past and future, and to analyse and solve problems with our minds is amazing. However, sometimes these thinking processes get out of hand, and rather than being helpful we get caught up and lost in thoughts. This can happen particularly when we are under a lot of stress - and make us feel worse, or do things that aren't helpful. Noticing and naming our thinking patterns can help.
Thinking helps us in so many ways, but sometimes it can cause problems. Because of this it is good to understand the nature of the mind, and our own common thinking styles, patterns or biases.
Having difficult thoughts and feelings is human, so it’s not about trying to control our thinking, or make thoughts go away. It’s about getting better at seeing what our mind is doing — noticing our thoughts earlier before run away on us, influencing our emotions and actions more than they need to. By simply noticing what our mind is doing (without trying and change it) thoughts can have less impact on our feelings and our actions.
These thinking styles have been called other things like ‘automatic thoughts’ — automatic in that they come up a lot and can run along in the background for much of our day. They have also been called ‘cognitive biases’ — when we get caught up with them they colour our view of ourselves and the world. Sometimes they have been called ‘unhelpful thinking’ because when we get too caught up in them they can impact on our emotions and actions in unhelpful ways. These ways of thinking aren’t wrong, but they can cause problems if we aren’t aware of them and we get caught up in them for too long.
As you read through the list below, think about:
How common each thinking style is for you, and..
How caught up you get in each
Ruminating on the Past
Not being present because you are reviewing the past.
Thinking about the Future
Not being present because you are focusing on the future.
Analysing / Problem Solving
Spending a lot of time lost in thinking about how to figure out issues.
Imagining we know what other people are thinking, or getting caught up wondering what other people are thinking.
Trying to predict, or thinking we know, how the future is going to turn out.
Tending to jump to catastrophic interpretations when something unexpected or unwanted occurs (or when anything happens), or make disastrous predictions about how things are going or how they might turn out.
All or Nothing Thinking
Also known as Dichotomous, or ‘Black and White’ thinking. Things are either all right or all wrong. This is very common in perfectionism.
Shoulding & Musting
Always thinking, or saying “I should, I shouldn’t, I must, I have to, I can’t…”
Taking all the blame, when other people, or factors, might have played a part.
Something goes wrong, so we start thinking that everything goes wrong all the time.
Making the things that go wrong (or the things we think are wrong about ourselves) bigger than they are.
Making anything that goes well, or successes we have, smaller by thinking or saying “it was easy”, or “anyone could have done it”. Not giving ourselves any credit for some of the good things we do.
Only seeing evidence that fits with the idea we aren’t good enough. Not letting in any other information.
Disqualifying the Positive
Thinking positive events are down to chance, not our efforts.
Labelling / Judging
Telling ourselves “I’m … [ugly / stupid / lazy / disorganised / boring / pathetic / slow…. etc]”. Usually these judgments and labels aren’t so nice. However getting caught up telling ourselves “I’m … [amazing / incredible / fantastic / perfect … etc]” can also cause problems.
This thinking style is about getting caught up in emotions and looking through the logic of emotions. For example, being really angry about something that happened at work, and allowing that anger to influence what we are thinking about our friends or family or partner. Emotional reasoning also includes thinking there must be something to feel emotional about, simply because we are feeling emotional. For example, thinking something really bad is about to happen because we are feeling panicked and on edge.
Now you have taken the time to do this, keep note of the common thinking styles that come up for you - especially when you are under stress. Remember, these are normal, and it isn’t about getting rid of them. It’s simply about getting better at noticing them, so you can see them earlier, and not get so get caught up in them throughout the day.
Centre for Clinical Intervention: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/minipax.cfm?mini_ID=14
Psychology Tools: http://psychology.tools/unhelpful-thinking-styles.html
Westbrook, B., Kennerley, H., & Kirk, J. (2011). An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications. London: Sage Publications Ltd.