How thoughts can affect anxiety. Midlife can be a time of change and because we don’t always know how we want to change or how change will come about it can be helpful to keep positive and manage anxiety in this liminal space. Cognitive Behaviour therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy which emphasises how the way we think can affect our emotions. Now don’t get me wrong, when the going is good and the thoughts are positive it can be almost a breeze getting through life- we don’t really have to worry about good positive thoughts. The ones we have to watch out for are the negative thoughts because they can be so impactful on our mood which in turn can affect our behaviour.
CBT helps people understand how common cognitive thinking errors, also known as cognitive distortions or cognitive biases, are patterns of thinking that can lead to inaccurate perceptions, negative emotions, and flawed decision-making. These can really affect how we feel about life, the unaversive, ourselves and others and in turn affect productivity and happiness. These are the common cognitive thinking errors we all need to watch out for because not only are they unhelpful, but they can also cause anxiety spikes:
Certain common thinking errors can affect our well-being, increase anxiety and limit our lives and potential. Here are some common examples:
All or nothing thinking: ‘This is the only relationship that will ever make me happy’. In this type of thinking, you are either a success or a failure – there’s nothing in-between.
Always or never thinking: ‘I will never get over this feeling of emptiness’. In this type of thinking, you see things in extreme, absolutist terms.
Mind reading: ‘People must think I’m really stupid’. In this type of thinking you assume what others think of you without necessarily having any evidence.
Fortune telling: ‘There’s no point doing that, it’ll never work’. In this type of thinking you can predict a negative outcome without considering the odds of it happening, jumping to conclusions instead.
Magnification: ‘This one little mistake has ruined absolutely everything’. In this type of thinking, known as the binocular effect, the significance of a situation tends to be blown out of proportion.
Dwelling on the negative: ‘If only I’d said that in the meeting’. In this type of thinking it’s common to disregard any good things that might have happened and concentrate solely on any bad aspects of a situation.
Minimising the positive: ‘I’m good at my job but anyone can do that’. In this type of thinking there is a downplaying of any positive aspects of a situation.
Catastrophising: ‘My last relationship didn’t work out, I’ll never find love’. In this type of thinking people predict the worst-case scenario.
Self-blame and being over-responsible: ‘She looks cross, it must be because of me’. In this type of thinking you assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong, even when it’s not your fault. Responsible, hard-working people tend to do this.
Should and must statements: ‘I should have my life in order by now’. In this type of thinking your thoughts can bury you in shame.
Emotional reasoning: ‘I feel selfish when I prioritise myself, so I must be a really selfish person’. In this type of thinking your emotional reaction is assumed to be the truth.
These thinking errors provide a quick way to sabotage yourself and feel bad about yourself. It can be hard to move forward when you feel down, depressed and useless as a result of these unhelpful ways of thinking.
It’s important to note that these cognitive thinking errors are common, and most people experience them to some extent. Becoming aware of these patterns of thinking can help you challenge and reframe them, promoting more accurate perceptions, positive emotions, and better decision-making.
If you would like help with your midlife transition or to find direction in the second half of life, why not read The Midlife Crisis Handbook or join other people going through a similar experience on one of our courses where a supportive and welcoming learning environment is provided.