Managing Irrational Thoughts

Outgoing text message: “Hey, what are you up to?”

Delivered.

(no response)

Outgoing text: “Hey, you there?”

Delivered. 

(no response)

You think: Why hasn’t she/he texted me back? Why haven’t I heard from them? Where are they?!? They must be cheating on me! Or maybe they’ve been in a car accident.  Maybe they’ve been in a car accident while cheating on me!! What’s happening?!! Text me back!!

Some version of that familiar?

It’s not uncommon to fall prey to the occasional bout of irrational thinking, but if you find yourself constantly arriving at worst-case scenarios, indulging in superstitions or conspiracy theories, or allowing your anxieties to wax hyperbolic, you may want to consider how you approach problems in your daily life.  Habitual irrational thinking perpetuates anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and other related mental health problems.  Not only the mind is affected, but stress can wear the body down, taking a toll on physical health.

Furthermore, perpetually yielding to your irrational thoughts now could be detrimental to your future outcome down the line.

For example, in college I dated a student-athlete and, while I thought I felt very connected to him, I was in a deep state of personal insecurity.  He was, by contrast, extremely self-assured, which only made me feel more vulnerable.  Emotionally defenseless, I gave in to my irrational thoughts any time he was out of town for away meets or training trips and let my imagination run wild.  I was calling him constantly, feeling threatened by his female friendships, asking him what he was doing all the time- being that girl.  I even went so far as to crash one of his training trips to “visit” him.  And while his teammates on both the men’s and women’s sides were mostly receptive or, at the least, ambivalent, to my face, I can only imagine they were pitying this pathetic insecure, girl who drove 8 hours round-trip for a measly few hours of face time.  Our relationship continued on in an unhealthy kind of codependent way.  We would fight and squabble over my insecurities–pretty common stuff in very immature, undeveloped relationships.

Without delving into the entire history of our relationship, I allowed my overly emotional, irrational thinking to essentially commandeer all of my decisions, from where I would attend graduate school to whom and when I would marry (him and too soon).  Needless to say, our marital union didn’t last long, as it wasn’t built on sturdy, logical cognition.

Here are some common types of irrational thinking:

Superstitious Thinking: 

Examples include believing your favorite sports team didn’t win because you weren’t wearing your “lucky” clothing item, practicing rituals like holding your breath when driving through a tunnel, avoiding stepping on cracks because you believe this will cause you harm, etc.

Hyperbolic/Catastrophic Thinking

Hyperbolic thinking is blowing things out of proportion compared to what the reality of the situation is.  An example is believing an interview snafu would not only nix your chances completely, but shut you out of the career altogether.  It’s essentially fatalistic thinking.

Jumping To Conclusions:

I again refer to the text message example because so much gets lost in translation with text messages.  As humans, we are pre-programmed to be glass-half-empty thinkers, and, we often go into self-protective mode without realizing it.  Jumping to conclusions is sometimes an unfortunate by-product of that defensive setting.

Skewed Perceptions:  

Examples include paranoid thinking like imagining you are being watched or talked about.  Another example is you find yourself in an uncomfortable social setting and imagine people are laughing at you or making fun of you privately.

 

Coping With Irrational Thinking

You Are Not Alone: Realize that everyone has irrational thoughts every now and then.  Give yourself a break.  It’s only when we find ourselves set on pessimistic default-setting that it can become problematic, and even disabling in our day-to-day lives.

Ask For Another Opinion: Talk to a close friend or family member to get their take on things.  It could help to consider the situation from a contrasting perspective to get a better handle on what’s truly appropriate and realistic given the circumstances.

Self-Reflection is Important:  Remember sometimes salt is mistaken for sugar!  Take a step back and rationalize what you’re seeing, hearing and feeling… sometimes our minds deceive us and we need that extra time to recognize the reality of the circumstances.  Ask yourself, are you being paranoid? Am I being inflexible? Am I blowing this way out of proportion? Is my conclusion realistic? Has something similar to this happened before? If so, what was the outcome?

Take Time For Meditation: Meditative practice, yoga, deep breathing excersices, and regular journaling can help with creating a calm head space.  If you are finding yourself in a state of agitatiton more often than not, you are more likely to default  to arrive at an irrational conclusion when faced with your next challenge.

Restructure Your Mindset: Use positive self-talk.   Don’t just accept the fatalistic negative self-talk and irrational thinking.  Proactively tell yourself you will rise above the challenge, that you are a good person, that you deserve to be happy, etc.

Remember, everyone struggles with irrational thinking every so often, but it’s important that you manage it properly and don’t let it overwhelm your life so as to avoid or reduce related social, emotional, mental and physical health problems.

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