Tough Stuff

Thinking traps: what they are and how to deal with them

What does the voice in your head sound like? Is it kind and affirmative, cheering you on, or is it telling you that you're bad at everything and should just give up?

If your mind feels like a cheerleader, congratulations! That's a big green flag when it comes to your mental health.

But if it's feeling more like your biggest critic? Chances are, you've fallen victim to some thinking traps (aka thought patterns that can make us feel anxious or down).

Luckily, it's *never* too late to shift the narrative in your own head and show yourself some love and kindness. We've got the rundown on some of the most common types of thinking traps and how to cope. Better mental health right this way...

What they are

All or Nothing Thinking 

All or Nothing Thinking is when your thoughts are in black and white—or when you only expect extreme outcomes. An example of this? Having thoughts like "I'll either ace my test or I'll fail," or "one friend is mad at me, which must mean everyone hates me." PSA: nothing is *ever* as simple as black and white—there are always greys or in-betweens in life.


This thinking trap is when you picture the absolute *worst* case scenario of a sitch (think: getting a single bad grade makes you worry about failing out of school). If you've ever catastrophized, you can probably agree that it's never actually helpful and almost always makes you feel worse. 

Fortune Telling

Anytime you have this thinking trap, you probably believe you can predict the future, but this can only hold you back. Let's say you're about to go to a party, but you tell yourself with complete certainty that no one will talk to you. That's an example of Fortune Telling (and tbh, it's almost never actually true).


Overgeneralizing is making an assumption or judgment based on just one or two experiences. This happens if when something happens (like you miss a shot at basketball practice), you tell yourself that you *never* do anything right. If you notice yourself doing this, remember: your value is so much more than a single experience! 

Mind Reading

Obviously, we can't *actually* read each other's minds. But sometimes, it's easy to fall into thinking that we can. The next time that you tell yourself what others "must" be thinking about you, remind yourself that mind reading (although it would be super cool), is impossible!   

Negative Brain Filter 

Having a negative brain filter is when we hyper-focus on the negative so much that it makes us forget the positive. An example of filtering out the positive is if you got a 95 on your last test and *only* thought about the questions you got wrong instead of the ones you got right. It's time to get rid of that filter! 

How to deal

Last time we checked, crystal balls aren't real. You can't predict the future and you can't read other people's minds. And black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing, overgeneralizing and filtering out the positive? They do *nothing* productive. Once you understand what thinking traps are, the next step is to catch them—and question their validity—the next time you notice them. When thinking traps show up, you may feel like it's the end of the world in the moment, and it can be tempting to picture the worst-case scenario. But taking a single second to ask yourself "is this really true?" can make all the difference. 

For more mental health content, check out these related posts:
🧠 4 ways to check in on someone's mental health 
🧠 10 ways to take care of your mind during Mental Health Awareness Month 
🧠 Try these 5-minute self-care ideas to destress during a busy week

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are resources available.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 988

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor 

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by Eva Mandelbaum | 9/6/2023