Tool 5: Consider More Helpful Thoughts

There are so many ways our thoughts can trap us in distressing feelings. Luckily we can learn how to get out of these traps!

Here are some tips.  

Tip 1: Use the Thought Diary to help you capture your thoughts about situations that come up in your daily life. Once you know what you are thinking, you can start to identify Thinking Traps and begin the process of freeing yourself from them. Find keeping a thought diary challenging? Check out the Troubleshooting tips.

Tip 2: Take a step back and treat your thoughts as opinions you have about situations, rather than facts, even when they feel true. Recognizing thoughts as opinions helps to create some distance between you as an individual and your thoughts, therefore allowing you to look at your thoughts more objectively.

Tip 3: Be curious: observe what you think and consider different perspectives. After all, our thoughts are our perceptions about what’s going on, not necessarily what’s really going on. Consider the possibility that another person could have totally different thoughts about the exact same situation.

Tip 4: Take a moment (e.g., take a few deep breaths, listen to music, light a candle – see Taking Care for more ideas). Thinking differently is hard work, especially when emotions are running high. Some people find gaining new perspectives easier when they give themselves a chance to do something soothing.

Tip 5: Don’t be discouraged if you did not feel much better after trying on the more helpful and balanced thought. The goal is not to have only positive thoughts and feelings. Having negative feelings and thoughts is part of being human. The goal is to learn to consider different perspectives and think flexibly. Increased mental flexibility has many benefits, including being less likely to stay stuck in thinking traps.  

 

Examples of more helpful thinking

 Thinking Trap Questions to Ask Yourself Realistic Thinking

Jumping to Conclusions
With my luck, I’ll end up with a fussy, colicky baby.

  • What evidence do I have to support my thought?
  • Is there any evidence to suggest this might not be the case? 
There is no way to predict what type of temperament my child will have. It’s just as likely that my baby will be easygoing. Regardless, I’ll be able to choose how to respond to my child’s temperament.   
Worst-Case Scenario
The doctor’s office just phoned and wanted me to call back. There must be something terribly wrong with the screening test results and the baby. I just won’t be able to handle it if something is wrong with the baby.
  • Am I assuming the worst-case scenario?
  • What is the more likely scenario?
  • Is there anything I can do to cope, if something bad did happen?
  • Have I coped with difficult life circumstances before? Am I underestimating my ability to cope with difficulties and challenges?
I am assuming the worst-case scenario. It’s likely that the office called simply to give me the screening results. Even if there are some concerns with the results, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the baby. Screening tests have high rates of false positive. Even though right now I can’t imagine being able to deal with scary test results, I’ve always surprised myself about how well I rise up to challenges.  

It’s All My Fault
I’m fully responsible for the health of my baby. If anything goes wrong with the pregnancy, it’ll be my fault.

  • Am I taking on responsibility for things outside of my control?
  • Have I considered other factors or people that might influence the situation?
  • How much control do I really have over this situation?
  • Am I holding myself responsible for something not entirely within my control?

 

I am trying to hold myself entirely responsible for the pregnancy and this is not helpful. It only makes me scared to do things for the fear that I’d harm the fetus somehow. While I have some influence over the health of this pregnancy, there are so many things I have absolutely no control over. Even doctors don’t completely understand everything that can affect the well-being of a fetus.  

Harsh Critic
I’m an ungrateful woman for not enjoying my pregnancy as much as I should.

  • Would I talk to someone I care about this way? What might I say to them if they were in a similar situation?
  • Is this way of talking to myself or thinking about others helpful?
  • What would be a more objective or compassionate way of talking to myself or thinking about others?

Not every woman enjoys her pregnancy. Not liking some aspects of it (like morning sickness, weight gain, and water retention) doesn’t mean I’m not grateful about having a child. There are no set rules about how I should feel about my pregnancy.

Black-and-White Thinking
The baby isn’t even here yet and we’re already fighting about him/her. Once the baby arrives, we’ll be fighting all the time.

  • Is there a less extreme way of looking at this situation?
  • Am I ignoring information between the extremes? Are there some “greys” in the situation? 

Although we had an argument, we typically work well together. This is not an indication that we’ll be fighting all the time when the baby arrives. It is probably not uncommon for couples to fight over small stuff while getting ready for a newborn. It’s an exciting but stressful time for new parents.

Confusing Thoughts with Actual Probability
I have to stop thinking that something might go wrong with the birth because I’ll jinx it and cause something bad to happen.

  • How many times have I thought _____ and how many times has it come true? What evidence do I have?
  • Have I ever thought something bad might happen but it never did? What about something bad that happened but I never thought about it?
  • (When appropriate, try Anxiety Experiments.)

I had similar thoughts while I was pregnant with my other two children, but both births turned out fine. I tend to assume the worst is going to happen, and things usually do not turn out badly. I don’t have any evidence that my thoughts will increase the likelihood something bad happening, other than the anxiety I feel.

 

Confusing Thoughts with Actions
When I get scary thoughts about stepping into traffic, I worry that I will lose control and actually do it. To keep myself safe, I avoid going out as much as possible and only go out with someone else, to make sure that I do not act on my thoughts.

  • Does having a thought equal to action?
  • Am I using a double-standard? If someone I knew well had the same thought, would I hold the same attitude towards that person?
  • If I were the prosecuting attorney and had to convince the court that someone is guilty, how would I do that? Would I need to produce hard evidence or simply argue how guilty I feel the person is?

Having these scary thoughts would be upsetting to anyone. But it does not mean that I will actually act on them. When I shared these thoughts with a good friend, she told me that she had random thoughts that scared her when she was pregnant too.

If It Feels True, It Must Be True

I feel really anxious about the upcoming ultrasound. That’s a sign. I’m probably going to find out that there’s something wrong with the baby.

  • Am I using emotions too much as a guide?
  • Am I telling myself that feeling anxious means something really bad is going to happen? Other than the feeling, what evidence do I have?
  • Have I felt anxious about things in the past and nothing bad came out of it? How is this approach working out? Has it helped manage my anxiety?
Just because I feel anxious about the upcoming ultrasound it does not mean something is wrong with the baby. It’s just a feeling. I have felt anxious about other things in the past but they usually worked out fine. Using my feelings to guide me has not been helpful; it only makes me more anxious.

 

NOTE:
While many people have found these tools to un-trap their thinking really useful, some people, particularly those who tend to overanalyze their thoughts, have not always found these tools helpful.

Give these above tools a good try for at least two weeks. The more effort you put in, the more likely you will see (and feel!) the results. If you don’t find them effective, try Tool 6, R.O.L.L with Anxious Thoughts. You might find learning to let go of your anxiety-provoking thoughts a better fit for the way your mind works.

Remember, there is no one size that fits all!