We all experience a constant stream of fleeting evaluative thoughts and images through our daily activities. These are called automatic thoughts. Automatic thoughts tend to arise spontaneously rather than intentionally. Our minds are constantly flooded with these thoughts, and we may have thousands of them in a 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, my friends, the trouble begins! Our thoughts are not always accurate. Many times we unconsciously fall into so-called thinking errors or cognitive distortions. Thinking errors are biased or inaccurate thinking that can lead to many unpleasant and unhelpful feelings and behaviors.
Thinking errors and health anxiety are best friends
Studies show that people with health anxiety tend to have many distorted thoughts. When someone has health anxiety, they may experience certain triggers ( physical symptoms or sensations, learning about other people’s frightening health conditions), and interpreting. This is often when thinking errors become grand entrances!
black and white thinking
One type of thinking error is black-and-white thinking or 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. In the context of health anxiety, it includes seeing oneself as either perfectly healthy or fatally ill.
Take Erica for example. She is driving home from her doctor’s appointment with the results of her health checkup. Her doctor told her everything was normal and she was fine. Of course, this made her feel epic, as she bounced along the highway, sang loudly, smiled at commuters, and happily 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. This is why I shouldn’t be so content with the idea that I’m healthy. It was as if I was watching my health like an electric switch. There was no middle ground. She was either a model in perfect health or a crumpled sick old bag. Ding Ding! health category. new mole? Ohhhh. disease category.
thoughts are not facts
The key to learning to think more soundly and accurately is to recognize that just because you think something doesn’t make it true. Sometimes thoughts are accurate. But otherwise they are inaccurate and even downright 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.