FEATURE — Many people are feeling afraid, nervous or anxious about the coronavirus and other catastrophes. A threat such as this may only happen once in a lifetime, and we may not feel prepared to deal with it and the associated emotional impacts, namely feelings of anxiety and fear.
These fears are likely caused by distorted thoughts that impact our ability to stay calm and rational. These happen automatically.
Common patterns of negative thinking
One of the most common distorted thoughts includes “all-or-nothing thinking.” A person might think in extremes, or that things are black or white. Another way of thinking is overgeneralization, in which a person may assume that if one negative event happened, then something else is bound to go wrong.
Those experiencing anxiety may also think with a mental filter. Using a mental filter means dwelling on one negative point, making the entire situation feel negative.
Jumping to conclusions is another negative way of thinking, in which a person makes negative assumptions, even though the facts may not support them.
Anxiety can also turn into magnification or catastrophizing – blowing a situation out of proportion or making more of it than may be merited at the moment.
And finally, emotional reasoning is a negative thought process related to fear and anxiety. This way of thinking involves taking the negative emotions you feel as evidence of the truth, allowing emotions, rather than logic, to do the reasoning for you.
So what do I do?
Unfortunately, we cannot control whether these thoughts come into our minds. However, we can learn to manage them when they come. That is where we gain control over the thoughts and their associated impacts. But how do we do this?
First, identify the negative automatic thought. The most helpful thing you can do to stop negative automatic thoughts is to recognize them when they occur. This helps you objectively see that it is the thought or the “what if” that is making you anxious or fearful.
Second, examine the evidence. Instead of assuming that your negative automatic thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. Find evidence to support the more positive alternative and focus on that evidence.
The double-standard method is another option. Imagine a close friend asked you for help with a problem like the one you are facing. What advice would you give him or her? That same advice can help you.
Next is the survey method. Talk to people you trust and ask questions so they can help you see the situation more objectively and logically.
Re-attribution is another way of thinking. Instead of focusing entirely on the problem, focus on managing the problem and finding solutions rather than using your energy on fear and anxiety.
Lastly, try an emotional cost-benefit analysis. List the advantages and disadvantages of thinking negative thoughts. Don’t put pressure on yourself to never have negative automatic thoughts. Everyone does. I have been teaching these principles for 15 years, and I still catch myself jumping to conclusions and reasoning with my emotions. However, when I remind myself that it is the distorted thoughts that are talking, I can slow the negative emotions that tend to follow.
It will take practice, but it’s possible to take back the thoughts that control fear and anxiety.
Written by JONATHAN SWINTON, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences assistant professor.
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