The 15 Reasons for Our Stress: The Thought Errors
Where does stress originate from?
Stress isn't something that just happens to you. Your way of thinking is the cause of it. I don't mean that all that you think is the cause of stress. But there are a few patterns of distorted ways of thinking that make things stressful. Sadly, many of us don't even notice these thoughts because they are so elusive. They are called cognitive distortions or thought errors.
And they are not like our usual negative, automatic thoughts.
The common thinking errors
I hate dragging explanations along, so I jump straight in because there are fifteen of them.
1. Deletions and mental filters:
Our mind tries to delete information that it thinks is painful or uneasy and retains those that make us happy or valued.
This is called placing a mental filter, where we focus only on the negative aspects and sift through all possible positive experiences. And our mind channels all these experiences through one funnel to jump to one big conclusion: “This is bad.”. When faced with a similar event in the future, our minds recall all the negative parts of past experiences. In the end, that "one big conclusion" influences an automatic assumption or response that leads to stress.
Example: One person might spread hateful comments about you, while there will be several others who believe in you. The mind lingers around that one hateful comment, deleting the good people.
2. Black or white thinking:
This pattern of thinking is something like,” I am perfect, or else I am a complete failure.”
This is an extreme pattern of thinking where there are only two poles and no middle ground. This black-or-white thinking allows no shades of grey, which is a reasonable area with so much potential and complexity to learn.
Example: While you are on a healthy diet, you give in to the temptation to eat a piece of cake. This thinking makes you think that you have lost the plan, and so you end up eating the entire box.
3. Generalizing and categorizing:
This is the pattern where one generalizes all future events based on one or two present or past instances. Often, this stems from a sense of helplessness.
Example: You get into your car and it won't start. You try something, and the car starts when the pizza box on the deck falls, ruining your pizza. Then you start thinking that nothing ever goes right in your life.
Just think, how true is it that nothing goes right for you? Don't you think there wouldn't be another person right now facing problems similar to or even worse than yours?
4. Jumping to conclusions:
People who jump to conclusions usually have a negative interpretation of the events they face without any real evidence.
It can show up as mind-reading (what others would think of me) or fortune-telling (I am sure that something bad is going to happen). And these thoughts often multiply and churn us into devastation.
Example: You meet a classmate whom you like in school, and she passes by you with a quick "hi. You might jump to the conclusion that she is mad at you since she did not stop to talk with you. While she would have been preoccupied with her assignment that had to be finished.
This one is a common one.
Consider a situation where you ask your friend to accompany you on a trip, but he or she refuses. This makes you think and cook up all the worst possible explanations, like your friend started hating you and is planning to leave you alone. This can get bigger and bigger. This process of catastrophic thinking, where you blow up a seemingly small adversity into a huge life crisis, is called magnification. If you had been patient and asked your friend the reason for their refusal, it could have been a different situation.
Thus, always check the facts before blowing up an issue so that you do not end up devastating yourself.
This is what we often mean when we say “taking it personally.”
It is believing that everything others say or do is a form of reaction towards you. This could also be in the form of comparing you with the people you come across. This becomes more problematic when you make yourself responsible for some negative event because of this thinking when you are not.
We have mostly come across a few people who feel sorry for themselves.
Even we would have sometimes fallen into this trap. Overindulgence in self-pity based on past trauma and experiences is called learned helplessness. These people become so immersed in negative thoughts that they start to live in them forever. They believe that they have no way out. But, to the contrary, they could be changed and managed.
They need to take responsibility for themselves.
8. The fairness fallacy:
Have you come across people who always say, “Life is not fair” for them?
The truth is, life is not always fair for everyone. There are rich people who suffer and poor people who are happy. This fairness fallacy is all about perception and comparison.
We find it easy to blame others.
“It is my mom’s fault that I have low self-esteem.” “It’s my dad’s fault that I am depressed.” Do you feel familiar with such words? This could be true or false. But what is the point of this blaming? Are you someone who isn’t capable of change and growth? No, right? It is YOU who has to take responsibility for how you feel about a situation and how to get through it.
The more you take responsibility, the more you become empowered to change.
10. By the word of idealism
This is where people living in a world of idealism believe martyrdom is a worthy role to play. They reason it out by saying that they serve the greater good. This is just a justification, and no greater good is served.
11. Confusing feelings with facts
Here, we identify ourselves with the feelings that we have.
For example, you think you are always sad and start acting out in a depressed way. The problem here is that we do not understand that how you feel is not who you are. They are just your feelings, and feelings are not facts.
It is important to de-identify yourself from these feelings for effective therapy.
12. Mistaking beliefs for truth
This is similar to the previous one, except that here we identify with our beliefs instead of our feelings.
Beliefs are not bad; they are nothing more than beliefs. We become distorted when we attach so much personal identity to them that we start to mistake them for facts. This, in turn, leads to us being offended when someone challenges that belief. This can also lead people to take unacceptable actions.
Just know that our beliefs vary and may be true or false. But it is important to have insight and tolerance around them.
We “label” ourselves and others with a specific behavior (usually negative) without considering all the good characteristics and actions. For example, you may feel that you are not good enough because you failed at something. Or else you may have heard someone gossiping about a person, and you end up thinking that person is bad.
Remember, there are always three sides to a story before labelling anyone.
You have a set of rules for how you or others should behave.
If others break them, you feel angry. If you break them, you feel guilty. This inflexibility takes a toll on our inner peace. This kind of thought pattern happens along with approval-seeking behavior. We think that we need the approval of our friends and families, so we put hard rules on ourselves and others around us. It makes us anxious in social situations.
Try to change the language here; instead of using must and should, try using prefer and wish.
This is the opposite of magnification, where you blow up a small, negative thing.
Here, we downplay all the positive or negative traits that we have. When we do not value ourselves, we have a low self-esteem. This increases the risk of being abused or taken advantage of. When we don’t give importance to our negatives, we might evade growth and people in our life. Focusing on building internal validation, realizing self-worth and practicing self analysis can stop minimization.
Practicing gratitude can help a lot too.
In your quiet time, sit down with a pen and notebook. Make two columns. Start writing all the unhelpful and unwanted thoughts that disturb you often in the first column. Then categorize each of the thoughts under the above-mentioned 15 cognitive distortions. This will give you a picture of your reasons for that stress so that you can work on them.