"Mental Traps" and Your Mood: What They Are and What To Do About Them"

Woman with different expressions on her face

     The relationship between the way you think and the way you feel is a powerful one. So powerful in fact that at times we can make ourselves feel worse about a negative situation through our thoughts. The way we look at the world and interpret events affect our emotions. From a neurological view, before experiencing an event you must process it with your mind and give it meaning. You understand what is happening before you feel it. We see a world that has positive, negative, and neutral events. We interpret the events with a series of thoughts that constantly flow in our mind, also known as our “internal dialogue.” Feelings are created by the thoughts and, not the actual event. Since the brain has given meaning to the event, our emotional responses are victim to how the brain interprets the events.

      Sometimes, our perception and interpretation of an event can be skewed and inaccurate depending on our mental state and default thinking patterns which can lead to feelings that might be exaggerated, incongruent, or out of proportion to the situation. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and mood swings are just a few conditions that can be dramatically improved by checking in with how the thought process interprets an event. Here are ten common thinking pitfalls that can affect mood:
  • All or Nothing Thinking - Seeing things in black-or white. If something is not totally perfect, then it is a total failure.
  • Overgeneralization - Seeing a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat.
  • Mental Filter - Picking out the negative details of an event and dwelling on them exclusively.
  • Disqualifying the Positive - Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they aren’t legit, or don’t count for some reason or other.
  • Jumping to Conclusions - Making a negative conclusion about something although there are no definite facts to support it.
  • Catastrophizing - Exaggerating the importance of things such as someone’ achievement or a goof-up, or shrinking things until they appear tiny like minimizing your own desirable qualities.
  • Emotional Reasoning - Assuming your negative emotions reflect the way things really are. An example would be “I feel it, therefore it’s true.”
  • Should Statements - Trying to rationalize experiences with “should” and “shouldn’t” statements.
  • Labeling and Mislabeling - Instead of describing an event, there is an attachment of a negative label. This is a form of severe overgeneralization.
  • Personalization - Seeing yourself as a cause of some negative external event in which you were not primarily responsible for.
     If you find yourself falling into these distortions, working with a therapist can allow you to identify when thinking patterns become unhelpful and worsen mood. Learning how to catch these thinking patterns and change them into neutral or more positive statements can improve mood and lessen the intensity of depression and anxiety.