Thinking Traps

Identifying your thinking traps is a great first step to start managing anxiety.

Some people have lots of anxious thoughts about the future. Some focus more on what other people are thinking. Some fear danger and hyperfocus on staying safe. Others seem to always imagine the worst possible scenario!

Whatever thinking traps you tend to fall into, the first important step is to recognize your personal traps.

Common Thinking Traps

All or Nothing Thinking (or Black and White Thinking) What’s Going On

Thinking only of possible outcomes at either extreme (really good or really bad) and not seeing all the possible outcomes in-between (or the “grey”). Most of life is somewhere in the middle.


  • One friend gets angry at you » “Nobody likes me, I’m totally unlovable and selfish.”
  • Presentation at school » “I’m going to either ace the performance or totally flop.”
Catastrophizing What’s Going On

Imagining the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely.


  • Getting one bad grade » “I won’t get into university and I’ll end up homeless.”


What’s Going On

Exaggerating the likelihood that something bad will happen.


  • “If I have a panic attack, I’m going to have a heart attack and die!”
Fortune Telling What’s Going On

Believing you can predict the future. But you can’t because you don’t have a crystal ball.


  • “No one is going to talk to me at the party.”
Overgeneralizing What’s Going On

Making sweeping judgments about ourselves (or others) based on 1-2 experiences. These thoughts typically contain the words “always” and “never.”


  • One friend gets upset at you » “I always screw up friendships. I have no real friends.”
  • Missing one soccer goal » “I never get things right.”
Mind Reading What’s Going On

Believing you know what others are thinking (and assuming it’s negative), without any real evidence. The problem: you can’t read minds, so stop trying.


  • “I know they are talking about me right now. They are thinking about how weird I look.”
  • “Everyone is wondering what I’m doing at this party.”
Negative Brain Filter What’s Going On

Focusing only on the negative without seeing any of the positive or what is going well.


  • Thinking about the one awkward conversation you had at the party, rather than the three great conversations you had.

See the print-out below for examples you can reflect on to learn about your own thinking traps.

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