Stressed Out? Don’t Fall Into These 8 Common Traps of Negative Thinking

Woman Outdoors Looking Away

When you’re dealing with stress, it’s easy to think in distorted ways, and this often leads to the pitfalls of negative thinking. We’ve all engaged in this before, but the good news is that just noticing that you’re doing it is often enough to get you to stop.

I’ve listed eight of the most common negative thinking patterns below and you’ll probably recognize a few familiar ones that you use. So be on the lookout and notice if you start to engage in any of these – and then throw them out with the trash!

Jumping to Conclusions

You’re either a forecaster or a mind reader when you partake in this pattern of thinking. Both occur when you draw conclusions about a situation without knowing all the facts.

As a forecaster, you predict the outcome of things that haven’t happened yet, and it’s almost always negative. No one is ever going to buy my house and I’m never going to be able to move again.

If you’re in mind-reader mode, you infer someone else’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, and you’re absolutely sure you know exactly how someone is feeling about you. I just know that Jason won’t ask me out again because he doesn’t think I’m pretty or smart.

Black-and-White Thinking

This is what happens when you think in absolutes. Everything is either “pretty in pink” or the world is coming to an end – there are no shades of gray.

A trick to catching yourself in this pattern is to watch for interpretations with “always” or “every” or “never” in it. Kelly always throws me under the bus and now I’ll never get a promotion.


In this type of negative thinking, you over-attribute things as either negatively directed at you or you feel as if you are responsible for bad things that happen.

An example of this type of thinking would be assuming it’s your fault the food wasn’t good at the restaurant you chose and now the whole evening is ruined.

Unrealistic Expectations

A clue that you’re engaging in this negative thinking patter is when you start using musts and shoulds. When you create rules of how situations should be or how people must be it often sets up unrealistic expectations, and then no one is happy. You’re left feeling guilty, frustrated, or resentful, and end up blaming yourself and others for things that aren’t under your (or their) control.

An example of this is when you decide your boyfriend should have known that you wanted him to take you out for a romantic birthday dinner, and that he’s a terrible partner for not knowing exactly what you wanted.


This is when you tell yourself that the absolute worst will happen, and that a situation is horrific and intolerable. You might also find yourself thinking about all the worst-case scenarios imaginable.

An example of this type of thinking would be if you have a fight with your husband about who’s going to walk the dog and now you’re convinced he wants a divorce.

Discounting the Positive

When you find yourself in a negative thinking pattern, it’s easy to forget about the positives or treat them like they don’t count. Instead, you tend to magnify the negative aspects of a person, situation, or experience.

An example of this type of thinking could be when you receive a compliment or congratulations and chalk it up to mere flattery.

Overgeneralizing and Labeling

In this kind of distorted thinking, you take one piece of negative evidence and use that to draw a general negative conclusion. One common way people overgeneralize is to assign labels to situations or people based on limited information.

A good example of this would be when a friend says she can’t go to lunch with you and you think, “Michele doesn’t want to be friends with me any more.”

Emotional Reasoning

In this type of negative thinking, you think that your emotions are facts – and you don’t make balanced choices or decisions when you’re in emotion mind. Because you feel negatively about something, you assume that this is the way things really are (even when they’re not). If I feel this way, it must be true.

An example of this is when you have a bad feeling about the presentation you made at work and then draw the conclusion that you’ll probably be demoted because of how you felt. However, the next day your boss tells you what an amazing job you did, and only then do you realize that how you felt was not fact at all.