couples counselling helping a couple restore their relationshipWhen we are low or depressed, our thoughts and perceptions are often biased, inaccurate or out of proportion to what we are actually experiencing. The thoughts seem very “real” or true mainly because of the way they seem to match our mood.

Knowing about these unhelpful thinking patterns, one way to manage our mood is to be aware of and interrupt these types of thought patterns.

Common Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

Here are some common unhelpful thinking patterns which we will look at in the context of someone narrowly losing a race for the last parking space in a station car park:

Thought (Emotion) Thinking pattern Challenge
This is terrible and has ruined my day! (Upset) Catastrophising Is it terrible or just bad? Is it the end of the world or an inconvenience?
Now I’ll miss my meeting. More trouble! I’ll probably be fired (Anxiety) Catastrophising/making predictions Will you definitely miss the meeting? Can you phone ahead? Are people generally fired for being a few minutes late?
The woman who beat me to the space must be laughing at me now. She’ll think I’m a right loser. (Anger/shame) Mind reading How can I know what she is thinking?
This always happens to me! (Depressed) Over-generalising/compare and despair/td> Does this really always happen? Am I over-exaggerating? Have I seen this happen to others?
I am such a failure (Depressed) Labelling/self criticism/black and white thinking Is this how I would talk to someone else? Is it helpful to beat myself up? Am I really a failure when I fail to do something?
That other woman must be a really selfish cow! (Anger) Judgement making How do I know what kind of person she is? What other perspectives can I see?
I feel embarrassed so I must be a idiot (Embarrassed) Emotional reasoning Just because I feel a certain way does not make my thought true.
Today was going to be great, now it’s going to be awful (Upset) Black and white thinking Most days have good and bad elements and can rarely be described as wholly good or bad.

How to identify unhelpful thinking patterns

You can use a simple diary or 3 column thought record to record the situation, thought and emotion experienced at various moments over a period of time, perhaps a week or month. When you look back through the record in conjunction with the unhelpful thinking patterns table above, you will probably notice certain patterns that are applicable to you. You might notice, for example, that you tend to “mind read”, assuming you know what other people are (negatively) thinking about you. Once you are more aware of the patterns you tend to fall into, you can begin to notice them as they happen and you can then challenge their validity. When overwhelmed with a negative emotion like anger, anxiety or depression, ask yourself “what am I thinking?”, “what pattern does this fit?” and “how else could I view this situation without using negative thinking patterns?” Just by noticing yourself entering into unhelpful thinking patterns and interrupting yourself can be enough to halt an emotionally painful  thought process before it take a hold and gives you the opportunity to do something different instead.

If you have any questions about managing depression, or anything else in relation to the Achieving Balance therapy practice, please contact Martin who will be happy to discuss these with you.