A technique that I have been trying to implement in order to have more control over my thoughts in times when I am anxiously overthinking is to identify what those common thoughts are. Many of my anxious thoughts are considered cognitive distortions, which are defined as “exaggerated or irrational thought patterns involved in the onset of psychopathalogical states, such as anxiety or depression”. There are many different types of cognitive distortions, such as magnification (“making a mountain out of a molehill”), personalization (always feeling like things are your own fault), or all-or-nothing thinking (seeing things in black and white as if there is no grey area).
After being conscientious of the common thoughts my brain tricks me into believing when I am extremely anxious, I realized that most of them could be categorized as “all-or-nothing thinking”. For example, in every anxious episode, I always think “I’ll never be able to find a boyfriend” or “Nobody likes me”. This kind of thinking is very black-and-white. It only considers two options: never vs. definitely or nobody vs. everybody. Life is not an exact science; in fact, we all know how unexpected it can be. To think that there are only two options available for unknown situations is not a logical way of thinking, and the more we label that as lies our brains are telling us, the smaller it will feel during anxious episodes.
The more we start to label what is going on with our anxiety, the more we can minimize the effects of those thoughts because we can put reason behind them. There are not only two options in life. There is so much grey area, and it is calming to recognize that.
Could any of your anxious thoughts be categorized as all-or-nothing thinking?
A helpful tip would be to write these common thoughts in a notebook and label them with their corresponding cognitive distortion; this way, when you have another anxious thought spiral, you can go to the book and see that what you are thinking is just your anxiety talking.
Have you experienced all-or-nothing thinking? What has helped catch anxious thoughts?