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Identifying Common Thinking Errors that Increase Stress

Part of the Stress Management For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Your thinking plays a bigger role in creating your stress than you might imagine. How you look at potentially stressful events or situations can result in greater stress, less stress, or even no stress.

The important skill you need to master is knowing how to identify your stress-producing thoughts and how to change the way you think. The key here is recognizing your thinking errors. Your thinking errors capture the negative, distorting elements in the way you see your world, others, and even yourself. Once you've identified an error, the next step is correcting that error. You re-frame the situation or event, bringing a more sensible you into the picture.

Following are some important thinking errors to spot and correct:

  • Catastrophizing and awfulizing: Exaggerating the importance of a situation or event and its impact on you. Put as simply as possible, catastrophizing and awfulizing is making a mountain out of a molehill.

  • Can't-stand-it-itis: Emotionally exaggerating an "I don't like it" into something you feel is intolerable. You're exaggerating your inability to cope with a situation.

  • What-if-ing: Worrying about something that has a low probability of happening (usually accompanied by some form of catastrophizing and awfulizing).

  • Overgeneralizing: Taking a single instance of something negative and applying that belief to a much larger group or process. The key words often heard here are "always," "never," "nobody," "everybody," and so on.

  • Mind reading and conclusion jumping: Thinking you know what others are thinking or coming to a conclusion about something without enough evidence.

  • Comparativitis: Comparing yourself unfavorably to others and putting yourself down, and possibly resenting the other person. It's normal to make comparisons. What's stressful is turning a comparison into a thought that makes you feel upset, angry, anxious, or depressed.

  • Personalizing: Blaming yourself, unreasonably, for the actions of others.

  • Emotional reasoning: Letting your feelings alone interpret the reality of a situation.

  • Filtering: Focusing on the negatives and disregarding the positives.

  • Magnifying/Minimizing: Exaggerating or minimizing aspects of a situation or circumstance, either blowing them out of proportion or minimizing their importance.

  • Should-ing: Demanding in an absolute way that the world and others in it must be more like you or live up to your expectations.

  • Self-rating: Rating your entire self-worth on the basis of a trait, ability, or performance, or making your self-worth dependent on the approval of others.

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