What we believe about a situation can influence the way we feel. Put another way, it’s not usually the actual event that makes us feel good or bad but the way we interpret that event. With this in mind, everyone falls into unbalanced thinking traps from time to time – it’s just part of life – and this is more likely when you feel sad, angry, anxious, or stressed, or when you’re not taking good care of yourself (e.g., like when you’re not eating or sleeping well). Returning to work following the diagnosis and treatment for Cancer can be stressful and therefore a likely time to fall for some common thinking traps. But remember, while these are normal, they are just traps. These ways of thinking can prevent you from seeing what’s really going on in a situation and increases the likelihood of automatic or reactive behaviors.

Some common thinking traps are outlined below:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: You see things as black or white. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  • Over-generalisation: You see a single negative event as an indication of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  • Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that everything else becomes darkened, like how a drop of ink discolours the entire glass of water.
  • Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason, like they are only being nice to me because they feel sorry for me.
  • Jumping to conclusions: You see situations as negative even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
  • Mind reading: You illogically conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check out if they really are, because you ‘know’ the truth.
  • The Fortune Teller error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and am therefore convinced that your prediction will be true.
  • Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimisation: You exaggerate the importance of things (e.g., an oversight at work means you are USELESS) or inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (winning that award was a fluke not due to my skill).
  • Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  • Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts or musts and must-nots before you can do anything. However, the result of these directed at yourself is guilt, and when directed at others is anger, frustration, and resentment.
  • Personalisation: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.