Mental Health Week – How To Improve Your Mental Health an article by our Ambassador Siena Castellon
Our mental health and well-being depend on our ability to manage our thoughts, regulate our emotions, and control our behaviour. Of course, this is much easier said than done. At some point in our lives, every one of us will struggle with our mental health. One of the ways to improve your mental health is to recognize and challenge your thinking errors.
Thinking errors are unhealthy thinking patterns that are twisted, distorted, or false. In other words, these distorted thoughts are your mind convincing you to believe negative things about yourself and your world that are not necessarily true.
Since our thoughts greatly influence how we feel and how we behave, listening to and believing in distorted thoughts can significantly impact our emotions, behaviours, and views. By learning to recognize and manage your thinking errors, you’ll build the mental strength to overcome the setbacks and challenges that life will inevitably throw at you.
Below are 12 of the most common thinking errors:
- Fortune Telling. This is when we predict that things will turn out badly, even if we have absolutely no proof that this will be the case. This thinking error can set us up to fail. If we believe things will go wrong, we may inadvertently act in a way that causes things to go wrong. For example, you want to invite Kalinda to go to a concert with you, but you convince yourself that she’s going to say no. So, you don’t ask her and end up missing out on an opportunity to hang out with someone you want to get to know better.
- Disqualifying The Positive. This is when nine good things happen and one bad thing happens, yet we only focus on the one bad thing. In other words, positive experiences don’t count as much as perceived negative experiences. Filtering out and dismissing the positive can prevent us from establishing a realistic perception of a situation. Developing a balanced outlook requires us to notice both the positive and the negative.
- Catastrophizing. This is when we see things as being much worse than they are. In other words, we blow things out of proportion. For example, you text a friend (who usually responds quickly). When you don’t hear back from her for a few hours, you convince yourself that she is mad at you and will never speak to you again.
- All-Or-Nothing Thinking. This is when we only see things as being black or white. We may take the view that we have to be perfect, or we’re a complete failure! There is no middle ground. Instead of seeing things only in extremes, we need to recognize the shades of grey.
- Overgeneralizing. This is when someone reaches a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something terrible happens just once, we then expect it to happen over and over again. We may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. For example, if you bomb an exam, you conclude that you’re a terrible student who won’t get into any university.
- Magnifying The Negative. This is when we magnify and zoom in on the negative aspects of our day. We may declare that we had a bad day, despite having had a few positive experiences throughout the day. Or we may look back at our performance and say it was terrible because we made a single mistake. Magnifying the negative can prevent you from establishing a realistic outlook on a situation.
- Jumping To Conclusions. This is when we assume that we know what another person is feeling and thinking and exactly why they act the way they do. We may even believe that we can determine how others feel towards us, as though we can read their mind. For example, you may conclude that a classmate is holding a grudge against you, but don’t try to determine if this assumption is correct.
- Emotional Reasoning. This is when we believe that our emotions accurately reflect the reality of the situation. For example, “I feel guilty, so I must have done something bad,” or “I feel afraid, so I must be in a dangerous situation.
- Labelling. This is when we take an overgeneralization and put a label on it. For example, since you didn’t know the answer to a question in class, you decide that you’re stupid and a terrible student.
Here are some suggestions as to how you can learn to recognize and manage your thinking errors.
10. Replace Absolutes. Once you focus on your thoughts and recognize a pattern, consider replacing statements such as “always” with “sometimes.” For example, instead of telling yourself you are always late, instead tell yourself that we are sometimes late.
11. Label Your Behaviour. Instead of labelling and judging yourself, label the behaviour. For example, instead of referring to yourself as “lazy” because you didn’t clean today, consider replacing the thought with “I just didn’t clean today.” One action doesn’t have to define you.
12. Focus on the Positives. Although it may be challenging, try to find at least three positive examples in each situation. For example, the pandemic allowed us to spend more time with our family, gave us time to explore new interests and made us grateful for things we had previously taken for granted. It might not feel natural at first, but eventually, it may become a spontaneous habit.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to recognize and eliminate your harmful thinking errors so that you can live your best life. When our thoughts are distorted, our emotions are, too. By becoming aware and redirecting these negative thoughts, you can significantly improve your mood and quality of life.
Excerpt from “The Spectrum Girl’s Toolkit: The Workbook for Autistic Girls.
Siena Castellon is an 18-year-old multi-award winning neurodiversity advocate, author and United Nations Young Leader for the SDGs. She is the founder of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, an international initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences by highlighting the strengths and accomplishments of the neurodivergent community. Siena is also the author of The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How To Grow Up Awesome and Autistic and The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Toolkit: The Workbook for Autistic Girls.