When you struggle with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, it’s easy to get stuck looking at everything through the most negative lens possible. You have thoughts that bring you down, make you doubt yourself, and make it hard to accomplish your goals. And yet they can feel completely out of your control. They might even seem like facts, not just distorted thinking.
Mental health professionals call these “cognitive distortions,” or “thinking errors.” You can think of those as fancy terms for “stupid thoughts.” There are many different kinds of these thoughts. Here are a few examples:
- Black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking: “If I make one mistake, I’m a bad person.”
- Filtering: “No one ever appreciates me”—ignoring all the times when people have expressed appreciation for you (even if it’s not as often as you’d like).
- Blaming: Thinking that everything good that happens to you is because of luck. Everything bad that happens is your own fault.
- Catastrophizing: “My partner broke up with me… Now I’m going to die alone.”
There are a lot more of these. Stopping your stupid thoughts takes two steps: learning to recognize them, and learning to reframe them, or look at them in a more positive or realistic lens. Taking the example of catastrophizing about a breakup, you might reframe the thought “Now I’m going to die alone” with thoughts like these:
- “I really liked them. I’ll probably be sad for a while—but I’ll start to feel better with time.”
- “Maybe I was too emotionally dependent on this relationship. I can use this as an opportunity to learn how to be happy and strong on my own.”
- “Now that I know what went wrong in this relationship, my next relationship can be better.”
These examples look at the situation from an angle that is more positive, more realistic, and more constructive. Notice that you’re still allowing yourself to feel sad about the breakup; you’re not invalidating your emotions by telling yourself to “get over it.” You’re just taking a step back to think about your thinking.
It takes a long time to get in the habit of thinking this way, and maybe even longer to start actually believing it. To help you get started, we’ve created a worksheet that lists 11 different types of “stupid thoughts” and provides a visual exercise you can use to get in the habit of reframing your negative thoughts. You can download the worksheet here:
Aside from cognitive distortions, there are also other types of thoughts that can negatively affect our mental health. You can read more about these in our article about types of intrusive thoughts.