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Anxiety, Stress & Coping
June 14, 2023
4 Ways Your Thoughts Can Induce Anxiety & Overwhelm

Jessica Weeks-Bouma

A woman sitting in a chair who looks deep in her thoughts

Your Guide to Overcoming Thinking Traps

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We know that our thoughts can be powerful and can significantly impact our actions and feelings (this is the whole premise of a therapy approach known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). 

You may be familiar with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short. In CBT, one of the concepts that I often talk about in sessions is thinking traps. Unhelpful thought patterns, known as thinking traps, are something we may all fall into from time to time, even if we are unaware of them. While there are multiple thinking traps (check out this PDF to see all of them), four common ones that I see in my practice are: 

  • all-or-nothing thinking: thinking in extremes
  • mind reading: believing you know what others are thinking 
  • fortune telling: predicting the future and that it's going to be bad 
  • catastrophizing: blowing things out of proportion 

How Might This Look in Real Life?

Here's an example to help envision these four common thinking traps: Jenny is 25 years old and experiences social anxiety; she often has worries about her relationships with others, including family, friends and partners. Jenny identifies as an over-thinker and ruminates about her interactions with others. 

All-or-nothing thinking 

Jenny believes… If my friend does not invite me to hangout with them every time they invite people over, then we are not truly friends

Ways to challenge this:

  • Thinking in percentages (i.e. my friend invites me to 80% of their get-togethers)
  • Acknowledging the positives (i.e. whenever I hang out with my friend, I feel a sense of connection, and they always appear to enjoy my company) 

Mind reading

If Jenny shows up to a party and thinks, “Becky didn’t say hi to me when I walked in; she is probably mad at me and doesn’t want to talk,” Jenny is mind-reading. 

Ways to challenge this:

  • Ask yourself, what is my brain making up vs. what do I know to be true? (i.e. reminding yourself, “my brain is creating a story based on one piece of evidence”)
  • Knowing we cannot control others’ thoughts and focusing on what is within our control (ex., I am going to continue to talk to my friends and say hi to Becky when I get the chance and see how she responds)

Fortune telling

If Jenny is going to meet her partner's friends for the first time and thinks, “they are not going to like me, and then my partner is going to break up with me,” Jenny is fortune telling. 

Ways to challenge this:

  • Grounding self in the present (focusing on the present moment, can use the 5 Senses Grounding)
  • Reflecting on previous times that things went well (ex., I have met new people many times, and it typically goes well) 


I forgot my friend's birthday; our friendship is over– is an example of Jenny catastrophizing

Ways to challenge this:

  • Checking the facts (i.e. this is the first time I’ve missed a milestone, my friend is a forgiving person)
  • Zooming out and seeing a fuller picture as opposed to zooming in and spiralling on one fact (ex., Yes, I missed this birthday, and I know that I have shown up for this friend in many different ways throughout our friendship)

Ways to Combat Thinking Traps

The first step in addressing thinking traps is to notice and label them as they occur. When addressing thinking traps, we need to have some self-compassion, these are patterns that we have engaged in for a long time, and it will take time and practice to form new thinking patterns. Labelling and acknowledging them will allow us to utilize strategies to alter our thoughts. 

Pro tip: Print out the Unhelpful Thinking Patterns handout and keep it in a visible place for daily/weekly reminders.

If you want to dive deeper into overcoming your thinking traps, consider booking a session with a therapist at Shift!


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