I really can’t find the time to do a Thought Diary.

Life can be unbelievably hectic, and adding one extra thing to do can seem impossible. The idea behind keeping a thought diary is to practice paying attention to what you are saying to yourself and noticing how this self-talk affects you. You might find it helpful to use a small notebook or your phone to quickly jot down some notes shortly after an upsetting event and then reflect on them later, when you have more time. In addition, even though writing can make this task more effective, simply increasing your mental awareness is also very helpful. Make it a priority and check in with yourself a few times a day. For example, while you are walking, washing the dishes, or doing laundry, take a moment to notice your thoughts and reflect on them. Brief moments like these can make a big difference.

I’m having a hard time identifying my thoughts.

It can be hard to catch our thoughts because they can pop in at breakneck speed. Very often we feel the impact of our thoughts before we notice thinking them! If you find it hard to spot exactly what you are saying to yourself, this is really common. As with any other skill, you can get better with practice. Give these strategies a try:

Be a detective. When you start to feel anxious or physically uncomfortable (e.g., heart racing, stomach clenching, or muscles tightening), ask yourself:

  • What did I imagine or tell myself just now?
  • What am I worried about?
  • What bad thing am I predicting will happen?

Separate thoughts from feelings. We may say things like this to ourselves:

  • I feel stupid.
  • I feel like I’m going to mess up my baby.
  • I feel like something is going to go wrong with the birth.

Despite the word “feel,” these are actually examples of thoughts rather than feelings. Feelings are emotions and can be described in one word, such as fear, happiness, anger, disgust, surprise, sadness, and joy.

Notice different forms of thoughts. They can come in the forms of words or images.Images are as powerful as words at affecting our feelings and behaviours.

If you’re stuck or unsure, take a guess. It is okay to guess. It might actually provide some clues about what you are telling yourself or imagining. Ask yourself: what would another mom tell herself or imagine if she were reacting the same way?

If you tried these strategies and still can’t seem to figure out your thoughts, that is okay. Pay attention to what you are doing. As you can see from the Anxiety Fingerprint diagram, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all connected.

Anxiety generates unhelpful behaviours that keep anxiety going. Seeking repeated reassurance from your partner can feel better in the moment, but in the long run it can actually make anxiety worse, and keep you feeling distressed and exhausted. Learning to identify and change these behaviours can be even more effective than changing your thinking. Read Facing Fears to learn more about anxious behaviours and how to change them.