This article was originally published by All Mental Health, a technology-driven nonprofit with a mission to increase access to cognitive behavioral therapy skills.
Think back to the last time you felt really stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
Did you have any extreme negative thoughts? If you’re not sure, see if any of this sounds familiar:
It’s always going to be this way.
This is terrible.
This person hates me.
I never feel good.
This always happens to me.
I never get it right.
Black and white thinking happens when we go to extremes–when we feel like things are always bad, never good, and will be that way forever.
We can create entire pictures of how a person feels about us from one small interaction. Like if a friend you recently met passes you without saying hello, you might jump straight to: Well, I guess she hates me. (Instead of: Hmm, maybe she did’t see me.)
Or if you mess up one part of a presentation, you might think: I’m definitely going to fail. (Instead of: I messed up that part, but I think it went pretty well overall.)
Thinking “in color” just means seeing the in between. Things are very rarely all good or all bad. And when we feel really anxious or down, it’s usually because we’ve decided a situation is all bad.
Over the next few days, pause when you’re feeling anxious. If you can identify a thought that’s making you feel that way, notice if it’s a black and white thought. Are you going to extremes?
Noticing is the first step. Then, you’ll do something called cognitive reframing to help examine–and ultimately change–those thoughts.