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Stress Management for Health Course

Thinking Errors

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What are Thinking Errors


All of us make mistakes in writing or doing sums.  It is natural that we make mistakes in thinking, too.  These are Thinking Errors we often make thinking errors when we are anxious or depressed.  Typical errors include:


1.  Thinking the Worst


You think things are much worse than they really are.


For example:


        You feel a pain in your chest.  You immediately think that something is wrong with your heart (and then you feel anxious).


        Your girlfriend does not phone you.  You immediately think that she never wants to see you again (and you feel depressed).


When we think the worst, we jump to the worst possible conclusion for no good reason.  We automatically believe our conclusion is true.  This makes us feel bad.


2.  Overgeneralising


You think everything is going wrong when only one thing has gone wrong.


For example:


You feel some anxiety at the supermarket checkout.  You immediately think that you always become anxious whenever you are in a supermarket.


Somebody says something critical about your work.  You immediately think that your work is never any good, or that everybody is always critical about everything you do.  When we over generalise we draw conclusions about all sorts of things from just one event.


3.  Ignoring the Positive


You concentrate entirely on bad things and ignore good things.  For example:


        You go out for a drink with friends.  After 3 hours in a pub some other people come in and start being rowdy.  You leave, thinking what an awful evening its been.

        You cook a meal for your daughter.  She complains about the food you have chosen.  You immediately think you never look after your daughter properly, even though she normally enjoys your cooking.


When we ignore the positive we forget about the good things in our lives.  It seems that all we have in life are bad things.  No wonder we end up feeling bad.


(Holdsworth N, Paxton R (1999) Managing Anxiety and Depression: a self-help guide.  Mental Health Foundation)



Thinking Errors



What its called:



What you do:


What you think:


1. All or nothing thinking


You see things in black or white and ignore shades of grey

unless Im the best, Im a failure


2. Over-generalization


You see a single negative event as a never ending pattern

this didnt work so Ill never succeed


3. Mental Filter

You dwell on the negatives and filter out the positives

Those shelves I put up are no good because a screw fell out


4. Discounting the Positive


You reject any positive qualities or accomplishments

He only paid me a compliment to be polite


5. Jumping to conclusions (A)

You assume others are reacting negatively without any real evidence

He doesnt like me


6. Jumping to conclusions (B)

You make negative predictions about the future without real evidence

Im bound to fail


7. Emotional Reasoning

You reason from how you feel and ignore the facts

I feel stupid, so I must be stupid


8. Magnification or



You emphasize the negatives and underplay the positives

This is a complete disaster, a total failure


9. Personalization and blame

You assume things are your fault and take too much responsibility when things go wrong

My child is unhappy, therefore Im a bad parent

(Ref: Stopa L. A Treatment for Depression - Cognitive Therapy, a Depression Alliance Publication)

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