When people engage in therapy for anxiety, something they learn is this: Thoughts are not facts. Instead, thoughts are predictions, opinions, ideas and judgments. They are filled with biases that affect how we perceive things. There are some specific patterns of thought bias that are especially common in anxiety. Here is a list of 3 thought biases to look out for and some tips on how to keep them under control.
Over-generalising is when we take one negative event and see it as typical and likely to happen again and again. For example, your last date didn’t go well so you vow never to date anyone again. This means that one bad experience can have a negative impact on all other areas of your life.
What is the worst that could happen? This is the express train that takes you straight to the worst case scenario. If I walk on that balcony, I will fall and die. If I go to the supermarket alone, I will have a panic attack, throw up, pass out and be judged by everyone. If I get on that plane…. You get the idea. We’ve all experienced this one. It is a guaranteed way to send your anxiety through the roof.
I wave at a friend across the street and she doesn’t wave back. Conclusion? She hates me. I must have said something to offend her. As a result I spend the week in turmoil, analysing everything I ever said to her and avoiding her in case there is a confrontation.
The reality could be that she was lost in thought, didn’t see me, was dealing with her own struggles. Who knows? There are endless potential theories that do not include me and all my inadequacy.
Look out for these thought patterns popping up today. When you notice one, write it down. Label the thought as a catastrophising, personalising or over-generalising thought. The process of noticing a thought for what it is (a biased idea) rather than a fact can help you to detach from a thought, giving it less power over you. This enables you to consider alternative ideas.