How do we deal with our thinking when it is unhelpful? Once you are aware of these unhelpful thinking styles and how they are impacting on you in your day-to-day life, you can then begin to let them go or challenge them. Here are some ideas to deal with unhelpful thinking.

It is important to recognize that thoughts are not facts — just because we think it, does not mean it is true. Have you ever thought someone was upset with you, but when you checked it out with them, they were not fussed at all? In fact, thoughts are often assumptions.

Check out the evidence for your thought. For example, you might be worried that you might never meet any new friends. Look at what has happened in the past — have you met new people in the past? If you have, it is likely that you will meet new people again.

Sometimes in checking for evidence it is helpful to get feedback from other people. You might be worried that you have said something that will give the wrong impression about you. Asking a friend their thoughts can give a different perspective.

We might need to find an alternative perspective on the situation. Is there another way to view the situation? How would a friend see the situation? What would my therapist say about it? If you were looking at the situation from a distance or from a time in the future, how would you see it?

Ask yourself some questions such as, ‘Are my thoughts too black and white?’ or ‘Am I over-generalizing at the moment?’ It might help to look at the exceptions to the situation; for example, a young man might say that he is obsessed about getting a girlfriend and is ‘trying too hard all the time’. But when reminded of the times he is pretty relaxed about things and just enjoying doing his own activities, he realizes that sometimes he is worrying about it, and sometimes he isn’t.

It is also useful to ask yourself whether you are catastrophising the situation. For example, someone might think it would be a disaster if they had a panic episode whilst at a party. But what would that disaster be? The worst that could happen is probably that someone might ask them if they are all right and if they could help.

Often we think terrible things are going to happen, but most likely others would not even notice the person was feeling anxious, and if they did, they would probably be kind and helpful.

Change the words in the thoughts — remove ‘should’, labels and ‘what ifs’. Use language that is less harsh and generalizing, and use flexible words and phrases, such as ‘I would like to’ rather than ‘I must’.

Reframe or change the thought so that it is less hard on you. You might be thinking, ‘I’m such a worrier, I never stop worrying’, which could be reframed as: ‘I tend to worry, but there are times when I don’t and times when I handle my worrying really well.’

It is all about positive thinking. Change your thoughts and your attitude will change along with them; eliminate unhelpful thinking.

Dr Cate Howell and Dr Michelle Murphy are the co-authors of Release Your Worries - a Guide To Letting Go of Stress and AnxietyDr Cate Howell is a general practitioner specialising in mental health and counselling for the past sixteen years. Dr Michele Murphy is a clinical psychologist working in private practice. Cate and Michelle lecture at the University of Adelaide in Australia and share a consultancy. 

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