HOW TO THINK HEALTHY THOUGHTS DURING DIFFICULT AND UNCONTROLLABLE TIMES
Whenever you're going through a difficult time, it can be really easy to get caught up in unhealthy thinking. These unhealthy thoughts make you feel even worse about the situation even if they do not accurately reflect the situation at all. Unhealthy thinking can be especially difficult to avoid if the difficult time is also uncontrollable. Uncontrollable situations immediately cause humans to play out scenarios, question the past, and question our abilities. As a result, we get stuck in a cycle of unhealthy thinking that perpetuates a negative mentality and diminishes resilience. For example, take Susan's experience with the loss of her father. Susan and her father were very close, and they had a relationship until the day he died. He died in unforeseen circumstances, specifically a car accident on the way back from a doctor’s visit, preventing Susan from saying her goodbyes. As a result, Susan keeps replaying his potential last moments, asking herself why she didn’t offer to take him, and dwelling on their lost time. All these thoughts that Susan had in her head were unhealthy and were causing her to not be resilient to the situation, despite her maturity and intelligence. Susan’s story is meant to show that it can be very easy to get swept away in unhealthy thinking, even if you are a completely rational and intelligent person. Recognize Thinking Traps One of the most important ways to think healthy is to recognize thinking traps. Thinking traps are unhealthy ways of thinking that are common whenever we feel sad, angry, anxious, depressed, or stressed. Additionally, you can fall into thinking traps just whenever you are tired or not eating well. Here are the most common thinking traps as well as examples of them: Over generalization: Over generalization is when you connect a negative situation to a constant cycle of bad things that happen. Using words like “always” or “never” is a common sign of over generalization. Example: I wanted the last slice of pizza, but Hannah always took it as usual. I never get the last slice of pizza. Black And White Thinking: black and white thinking is when you see things as only being completely right or wrong, good or bad, or perfect or terrible. People who think in black and white tend to see things as a complete failure or complete success, with no middle ground. Example: I didn't go to the gym today. My exercise plan is now a failure. Labeling: Labeling is when you only say negative things about yourself or others. Example: I missed a question on an exam. I am stupid. Mind Reading: Mind reading is when you jump to a conclusion about what others are thinking even if you have no evidence to support it. Example: Jeremy canceled on me. He must be going on a date with someone else. Fortune Telling: Fortune telling is when you predict something bad will happen even if there is no evidence to support it. Example: Our relationship is going great and has progressed to the next stage, engagement, but I will say no because it will probably not work out anyways. Mental Filter: Mental filter is when you only focus on the negative parts of a situation an ignore the good. Example: I got a raise, but I did not get the full amount that I had asked for. I must not be a good employee. Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning is when you believe that your feelings reflect the situation. Example: I am upset because I feel like Jeremy does not care about me. Therefore, Jeremy must not care about me. “Should” Statements: Should statements are when you tell yourself how you should or must act. Example: I should be able to handle this project without getting stressed. Discounting Positives: Discounting positives is when you discount the positive things that you do or are said about you. Example: Elizabeth said that my hair looked nice, but she was just being kind. As you can see, there are a number of thinking traps that you can fall victim to. It is important to recognize whenever you fall into a thinking trap so that way you can get out of it and practice techniques to prevent you from making the same mistake in the future. How To Think Healthy Thoughts If you find yourself thinking unhealthy thoughts, there are a number of ways to improve your thinking abilities, here are the most common: 1. Separate Your Thoughts From Actual Events One of the most common reasons why people think unhealthily is that they think their thoughts are the same as the event. Consider the actual event and compare it to your interpretation of it. What actually happened? What facts would everyone agree on? How do you feel? What are your behaviors? How do other people feel? What are their behaviors? 2. Identify and Challenge Thinking Traps Whenever you are thinking unhealthy thoughts, identify the thinking trap you're falling victim to and challenge it. For example, if you see that you are falling victim to black and white thinking, try to pose a middle ground perspective on the situation. You can challenge the thinking trap by examining the evidence, seeing if there is a double standard, or conducting an experiment. 3. Accept Your Limitations Another common culprit for unhealthy thoughts is ignoring your limitations. There are certain things that we as humans are simply unable to do. If you find yourself in an uncontrollable situation, recognize that it is uncontrollable, and cut off any thoughts that imply you have control over the situation.