Thought Checking & Managing Your Stress
Did you know that we all have unhelpful thoughts that can oftentimes really mess us up? These
thoughts are called cognitive distortions, it is the mental noise and inner critic we all have in our head. We all have them. We have all learned some distortions along the way, but it depends on how many we have, and how severe they are, that dictate the impact they have on our lives. The more distortions usually means the more destructiveness in terms of how we feel, leading to greater depression and anxiety.
Distortions and destructiveness can often become our “acting out” ticket to engage in other self-destructive behaviors such as over- or under-eating, drinking, or gaming. When you do find yourself getting hooked with distortions, take a breath, do some breathing exercises like the ones in this program’s Tools & Techniques section, and, then, write them out, identify them and challenge them, meaning look at the facts versus the thoughts and assumptions.
A helpful way to do this is using the following “Thought Checking” tool:
Identify your negative, unhelpful thoughts. Ask yourself what you were thinking when you started feeling stressed or anxious. For example, someone with a fear of spiders will perceive the situation (a small spider crawling on the wall) as more dangerous than it really is (life-threatening). For some, this may quite easily be viewed as an irrational fear, yet identifying your own irrational, scary thoughts can be quite difficult.
Challenge your negative, unhelpful thoughts. In this step, pause and ask yourself; ‘what evidence do I have to support these negative thoughts?’ To help you, analyze unhelpful thoughts, focus on the facts which are those things that someone outside of the situation can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. These are not questions, ideas or assumptions. Another helpful strategy is to assess the pros and cons of worrying or avoiding the thing you fear, and then determine the realistic chances that what you’re anxious or stressed about will actually happen.
Replace your negative thoughts with realistic thoughts. Once you’ve identified the unhelpful thoughts, predictions, and negative distortions in your anxious thoughts, you can replace them with new thoughts that are more accurate and positive with realistic, calming statements you can say to yourself when you’re facing or anticipating a situation that normally sends your anxiety levels soaring.
Using this fear of spiders, for example, I could engage in this “thought checking” exercise by observing and challenging my thought process.
Which sounds like this:
I’m noticing a spider on my wall. Eech.
I don’t know exactly what kind of spider it is. It is in my house, and I know, in this part of the world, it’s very unlikely that it's venomous.
No big deal, I’ve seen dozens of spiders like this before and, although I don’t like them, they tend to eventually leave and go on their merry way.
What I have control of is to either let it go on its way, leave the room, squash it or get someone else to help me. Nothing for me to sweat about, I think I’m just going to leave the room and let it go on its merry way.