We all experience a continuous stream of fleeting evaluative thoughts and images throughout the day. These are called automatic thoughts and tend to come up spontaneously rather than intentionally. Our minds are constantly flooded with these thoughts. It can be in the thousands on any given day.
- “Why is this woman talking so loud?”
- “i love this song.”
- “I need to wash my car.”
These thoughts pass quickly through our minds, often without our awareness. When we are aware of them, we tend to accept them uncritically. And here the trouble begins. Our thoughts are not always accurate.Often without realizing it, we are involved in thinking errors and cognitive distortions.: Biased or inaccurate thoughts that lead to unpleasant and unhelpful feelings and behaviors.
Thinking errors and health anxiety are best friends
Research has shown that people with health anxiety tend to have many distorted thoughts. When someone has health anxiety, they may experience certain triggers. This is often when thought errors become grand entrances.
One type of thinking error is black and white thinking, also known as all-or-nothing thinking. This includes taking a more balanced approach and looking at situations in absolute black and white categories rather than looking at things on a continuum. This includes being considered either healthy or fatally ill.
Take Erica for example. She is driving home from a doctor’s appointment with the results of her checkup. Her doctor told her everything was normal and she was healthy. Of course, this made her feel magnificent. She bounced along the highway, sang loudly, smiled at commuters, and welcomed a few extra cars into her lane.Her life was good. After all, she was healthy.
However, after a few hours at home, she noticed that her eyes were red. All her previous relief and gratitude began to dry up. She thought in her heart, look?This is why I shouldn’t be so content with the idea that I am healthy.It was as if I was watching my health like an electric switch: on or off. There was no middle ground. She was either a model of health or a sickly bag. Were your pap smear results okay? health category. new mole? disease category.
thoughts are not facts
The key to learning how to think in a healthier and more accurate way is to realize that just because you think something doesn’t make it true. Sometimes thoughts are accurate. But it can also be inaccurate and harmful. It is important to question the validity of your ideas rather than simply accepting them as truth.
the beginning of a new journey
The first step in improving unhealthy thought patterns is recognizing the type of distorted thinking you are engaging in. At the beginning of therapy, we help clients become familiar with the most common cognitive distortions and thinking errors. Then, by recording your thoughts in a thought log, you begin to develop a “thought awareness” that determines your own thought patterns.
As you build your awareness of thoughts, you’ll learn how to challenge those thoughts through Socratic dialogue. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very helpful treatment for health anxiety.
Remember this: you are not alone and there is help available.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.