Understanding Negative Thought Process – And Reclaiming Control

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Agen BandarQIn this blog, Romana describes different types of thinking processes that can have a negative impact upon your mental health, and explores ways in which we can manage them.

Earlier today when I was walking through town, I felt my nose tingle. Immediately I thought: “Oh my God. I’m going to sneeze. This could cause a nosebleed. Here, in public. I won’t have any tissues and I’ll make a huge mess. I might even faint and have to be taken away in an ambulance. I’ll be stuck in hospital and won’t be able to make my meeting tomorrow.” Upon reflection, this is arguably one of the most ridiculous thought processes that I’ve ever had. But at the time, the threat and the fear felt very real to me.

Every day, many of us get stuck in negative, unhelpful thinking patterns like this. Thoughts that drive fear, panic and low mood. Thoughts that, if we stepped back and actually considered, are doing more bad than good, and might not be entirely reasonable.

The type of thinking that I have described above is called catastrophic thinking: taking a small situation and blowing it out of proportion. This thinking pattern is very common in those of us with anxiety disorders. Another common example for me could be when I struggle with a coursework question, and I will immediately think: “I can’t do this. I will fail this coursework, and then the whole module. My degree grade will slip, and I won’t be good enough to get the graduate job that I want.” With this completely skewed outlook, it’s no wonder that we begin to feel anxious and panic.

Another negative thinking pattern is black or white thinking: an either/or mentality, where we fail to see that there are grey areas in-between the black and white. This kind of thinking involves a lot of ‘never’ and ‘always’ statements: “I am never comfortable in social situations” or “I always fail at essays”. Everything is negative or positive, and we fail to see that there is a middle ground. For me, my black or white thinking is paired with depression. On my least productive days I will think: “No way will I get a first-class degree, I am going to fail”. This leads me to feelings of helplessness and hopeless, not recognising that there are grades between first-class and failure.

There are lots of negative thinking patterns like this. Unrealistic expectations: “I need to get a first in every exam, nothing less is good enough”. Self-blame: “My housemate seems irritated, it must be something I said”. Disqualifying the positive: “My grade was good, but I probably just got lucky”. These distorted thinking patterns are all linked to mental health disorders, so it is worth researching them and finding which ones you can recognise in yourself. This way, you are in a position to change your thinking and reduce your anxiety.

What we really need to do is catch these thought processes and challenge them. Question them. Ask, “What is my evidence for thinking this way, and is it reasonable?” I have found that learning more about distorted thinking has been very helpful in understanding my anxiety. It makes me feel in control, which is something that many of us with anxiety feel we are lacking.

So, if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to learn more about and become engaged with your negative thinking – you may be able to understand and help yourself much better.

My name is Romana, and I am a fourth year Maths student at the University of Exeter. I have never been one to open up about my struggles with mental health, but I have decided to write for the Student Minds blog as a way to express and understand what I have been going through, as well as to hopefully bring reassurance to others who are feeling as I have.