4 Anxiety-Related Negative Thought Patterns

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Jennifer Bosch, MSW, LGSW, Outpatient Therapist  Negative thinking patterns are clinically known as cognitive distortions. These patterns are often extreme, inaccurate ways of thinking.
  • "He's late for dinner and got into a terrible accident." 
  • "I failed that paper. I'm terrible at writing, I should just drop out of school."
  • "I always trip over myself, I'm such a klutz."
We all have negative thoughts that jump to conclusions once in a while. However, if these errors in thinking frequently occur, they can lead to increased anxiety and stress, and deepen depression.   Related: How Therapy Helps With Depression 

Cognitive Distortions & Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive distortions are a primary focus of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT treats generalized anxiety disorder. Negative thinking patterns: 
  • Surface when you are faced with an issue 
  • Reinforce self-defeating beliefs 
  • Can increase anxiety and stress 
Jennifer Bosch, a mental health therapist at Nystrom & Associates, explains the importance of identifying these patterns to receive help.
In treating individuals with anxiety disorders, one area of focus is negative thinking patterns. The unhelpful or unkind things individuals say to themselves have a negative effect on their mental health. Helping others to recognize these thinking patterns and learning to be kinder and more forgiving of oneself is a great place to make a positive impact. 
Fortunately, negative thinking patterns can be identified and turned around. Your mind can start working for you, not against you. It all starts with being able to understand what negative thinking patterns are, and how they can amp up anxiety.  Related: 8 Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Stress                   

1. Polarized Thinking 

Polarized thinking, or otherwise known as “all or nothing” thinking, is when your thoughts occur regularly in extremes. In other words, if something doesn’t happen just right, it’s a failure. For example, you start a new fitness routine and go to the gym daily. One day, you couldn’t squeeze in time to go to the gym. You see this as a failure and give up going to the gym altogether in the future.   

2. Emotional Reasoning 

This common cognitive distortion assumes that whatever you’re feeling must be the truth. For example, you feel anxious on a plane, so you conclude that flying is unsafe.  While it's crucial to express your emotions and listen to them, it's also important to judge them logically based on reality and facts.  

3. Personalization 

Taking things personally means you view other people's actions in direct correlation to you - even when they're not connected to you at all. Personalization takes place when you accept blame for something that has nothing to do with you or is completely out of your control. For instance, if you incorrectly assume you have been excluded from a party, you are personalizing the situation.

4. Overgeneralization 

Overgeneralization is when you assume something “always” or “never" happens to you because it happened one time. You make a rule for something that has had few occurrences. For example, you invite a friend for coffee, and they say they can’t make it. You say, “People never want to hang out with me.” Similarly, you enter in a raffle and are not the winner. You say, "I have the worst luck in the world." Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with other anxiety disorders, are associated with overgeneralization. Related: PTSD & EMDR Therapy

How to Change Negative Thoughts

Cognitive distortions can be corrected over time. If you'd like to change your patterns of thinking, the following tips might be helpful:
  • Identify distortions: Firstly, recognize your negative thoughts patterns. Become aware of the ones you return to often.   
  • Challenge the thought: Check the facts, ask yourself questions, and seek out the gray in what might seem like a black and white situation. 
  • Improve your self-talk: Above all, speak to yourself with compassion. Know that your thoughts are not facts.
  • Seek support: Ask for another point of view from a friend, relative, or therapist. In addition to being able to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings, they can help shift your perspective to see things differently. 

A Word From Nystrom & Associates 

In conclusion, negative thinking patterns can affect your mental health and relationships. A qualified professional can help you along your journey to correct your cognitive distortions and reduce anxiety or other mental health concerns. If you’d like to request an appointment, please contact our coordinators today.   Related: How Interpersonal Effectiveness Improves Your Relationships 

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