Controlling Irrational Thinking
We all worry about things that don't make sense from time to time, but what can you do when these thoughts spiral out of control?
Do you ever ask yourself, "Why do bad things always happen to me?" Or when you hear the walls of your house creak a little, do you assume that they're going to crumble down around you at any moment?
Negative thoughts and beliefs can cause stress and anxiety. They can also cloud your ability to think and act clearly. Even when we know certain thoughts don't make sense, it can be hard not to feel that they do. That's why it's important to identify and replace unhealthy thoughts with more realistic ones. This way, you'll be able to take control of nearly any situation.
Types of irrational thinking
You may have irrational or negative thoughts about yourself, others or the world around you once in a while. They may fall into one of these types:
Catastrophizing. Dwelling on extreme negative consequences, even when they are very unlikely.
Example: "I bet the plane is going to hit major turbulence, or worse, crash."
Personalization. Reacting as if certain events or comments are related to you, even when there is no connection. For instance, you may believe that your negative thoughts caused someone to become ill. Or you may think that certain rules were made at work to punish you.
Example: "They're having that meeting in order to talk about me."
Minimization. Undermining or devaluing something important. This can mean not considering either bad or good aspects of people or circumstances.
Example: "My friend's drinking is not really a big deal."
Selective awareness. Focusing on only one aspect of a situation and ignoring the context.
Example: "It doesn't matter that this bill payment is late, as long as it gets there in the end."
Arbitrary judgment. Thinking the worst, despite little or no data.
Example: "This headache is probably a brain tumor."
Overgeneralization. Applying a blanket judgment to a person or situation. Words like "never" and "always" are clues that you're overgeneralizing.
Example: "I always get stuck with the worst assignment."
Superstitions. Letting popular beliefs, such as bad luck and death, prey on your fears.
Example: "I can't go down that street because there is a black cat in my path."
When to seek help
If you see yourself falling into one of these "traps," take a step back to think about the facts and look at the situation another way. For instance, maybe your coworkers are meeting about a project you're not involved in. Or perhaps you're in denial about a friend's drinking problem because you're not sure how you can help her.
Don't ignore a pattern of distorted thinking. If you often have negative thoughts or if you feel like your daily life is controlled by irrational or unpleasant thoughts, talk to your doctor about it. Recurring irrational or negative thoughts can be a sign of a mental health problem, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Medication and psychotherapy can be very effective in treating these conditions.