Unhelpful thinking patterns contributing to anxiety

The outside reality is created by the thoughts and beliefs we maintain about life in general. What we believe in our inner world (cause), we see in our outer world (effect) — not the other way around.

We are often tested by circumstances outside of our control. Even though you may not be in control of what is going on outside of you, you most definitely can control your reaction to those situations.

We have the power because our inner world affects the influence we allow the outer world  to have on us. So next time you hear somebody mention that you have great personal power, know they are correct. You have more control than you think.

Over the years, as a response to life experiences, we develop unhelpful thinking patterns. Their primary task is to ‘help’ us deal with reality and life situations. They usually occur before and during stressful situations. We might favour some over others but they all contribute to anxiety.

Anxiety is wide-spread and often-time leads to depression. I have learnt through CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) coaching there are other ways of managing those situations. But the first step is awareness. Once we start noticing those thinking habits, we have the power to challenge our thoughts and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.

A man in jacket sits on a concrete block among the rows of concrete structures

Mental filter

It is like looking through dark (sun)glasses without looking cool. We focus on the negatives and dismiss anything more positive or realistic.

Alternative thinking: Am I only noticing the bad stuff? Am I filtering out the positive?

Emotional reasoning

We are convinced that our emotions reflect the reality. I feel bad therefore it must be bad. Not all thoughts are true, and not everything you feel is a fact. If my mood is low, my reasoning will be distorted.

Alternative thinking: Just because it feels bad, doesn’t necessary mean it is bad.

Mountains and Molehills

Exaggerating the negatives and the risk of danger, and minimising positives.

Alternative thinking: What is the bigger picture? How would someone else see it?


Imagining the worst possible scenario and believing the worst thing will happen.

Alternative thinking: What is most likely going to happen?

All or Nothing thinking

Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in between.

Alternative thinking: Things aren’t either black or white, they are shades of grey. Where is this one on the spectrum?


Creating judgement and evaluating everything that is happening around us, about ourselves and others rather than describing what is happening, and taking facts into consideration.

Alternative thinking: Is there another perspective? Is this judgement right or helpful?


We put our X-ray glasses on and assume we know what other people are thinking.

Alternative thinking: Are those my thoughts or theirs? What is more balanced way of looking at things?


Comparing ourselves negatively against others, and seeing only good qualities and positive aspects of others’ situations.

Alternative thinking: What is more realistic way of looking at things?

The internal bully

Negative self talk, blaming ourselves for situations that are not totally under our control or our responsibility.

Alternative thinking: Would I talk to my friend in a similar manner if they were in the same situation? Am I letting the internal bully take charge again? Would most people who really know me say that about me?

Shoulds and musts

When we say ‘I should’, ‘I must’ we put pressure on ourselves so we perform to the level expected from us by the outside world. It usually sets unrealistic expectations.

Alternative thinking: Am I setting myself up for a failure right from the start and acting against my inner values? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on myself and expectations that are unrealistic? What is more realistic?

We can’t control the weather, the economy or the actions of others. But we can control our attitudes, thoughts, words, emotions and behaviours. Awareness is the first step as it leads to understanding our distorted thinking patterns.

Recognise these, but pick one or two that are most relevant to you and your life, and start taking control today.

photo credit: Unsplash

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