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Overcoming Thinking Traps - Practices to relieve stress and build self esteem

Picture the start of your day. You wake with the feeling of defeat already upon you. You sense a difficult “hill” ahead, and doubt your ability to climb successfully. Even with the simplest of daily tasks, your confidence is low and stress seems to increase with each passing moment.

Weeks pass and the circumstances of life continue to be overwhelming; “what ifs” plague your mind, and negative thoughts sit in the driver’s seat. It is difficult to concentrate on any one task because your mind is constantly battling the pressures all around. This is the life experience for Cynthia. Cynthia is gripped by negative thoughts and overwhelmed by life decisions. She struggles to perform daily work duties, maintain friendships or meet the responsibilities she has made to her community. As Cynthia experiences these severe thinking traps, she also experiences damage to her self-worth and her overall wellbeing. Just as one might present concerning physical symptoms to a doctor, our unhealthy thinking patterns need to be taken with the same degree of seriousness. Cynthia has unhealthy thinking patterns, and must learn to identify them in order to redirect and overcome her toxic thoughts.

Learning healthy thought patterns and overcoming thinking traps can empower individuals to live confidently in their abilities and enjoy a balanced perspective. Some examples of thinking traps include: black and white thinking, tunnel vision, blaming self or others, feeling guilt and/or regret, pessimism, overthinking things, second guessing yourself, along with unhelpful comparisons. Overthinking things and second-guessing yourself includes focusing on what could go wrong rather than what could go right, or looking for the “perfect” situation rather than the best choice given the current circumstance.

If you find yourself in a thinking trap, begin to reflect on the immediate stressful situation at hand. Start by journaling the facts involved. Initially, avoid making judgements or predictions. Next, write down your viewpoints and opinions. Take note of your abilities, any worries or negative thoughts you may have, specifically what is stopping you from taking action. Review what you’ve written and highlight parts that may be considered a thinking trap. Once a thinking trap is identified, work towards creating a balanced viewpoint for your current life situation.

Establish how to be less negative or judgmental; ask if thoughts are helpful or hurtful and consider a more compassionate response in the moment. Pay attention to your strengths more often, instead of only focusing on weaknesses. Over time and with practice, you can learn how to change your thinking and in turn, take steps toward a more positive and balanced perspective.

To prevent the spread of thinking traps, it is important to pay attention to the negative influences in our lives and learn to distance ourselves from those. In order to be preventative, practice taking thoughtful steps. Preventative steps help us avoid overwhelming thinking traps and protect against problem behaviors. Develop social and emotional rhythms to use in strong relationships with family and friends. Take advantage of counselors and/or support programs as needed.

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