As the pandemic continues and we’re are still trying to settle into ‘the new normal’, added fear, uncertainty, stress and anxiety are emotions many of us are still grappling with. Over 50 per cent of Canadians are finding it stressful to leave their homes for public spaces and 40 per cent anticipate the worst is yet to come. Paired with isolation, a second wave and the downturn of Alberta’s economy, it’s not uncommon to find yourself experiencing thoughts and emotions that you’re unsure how to manage. To help you manage better, YW Calgary has launched a new online skill-building tool called Mindfulicity which offers bite-sized modules that help people learn how to regulate their emotions and build skills to better manage responses in the workplace and at home.

Picture this: the lights are out and it’s time for bed, but you’re wide awake. Your eyes are open and your brain just won’t turn off. You can’t stop thinking about what happened today, and you worry about what tomorrow could bring. An hour passes, “I need to get to sleep, I have seven hours left”. As you stress and worry, you can feel the moments pass and the night slip away. “The night is awful. Work tomorrow will be awful. Everything is totally out of control and nothing ever goes my way.”

If something like this has happened to you, then you know all too well what it’s like to have your brain become hijacked by “thought distortions” or “stinking thinking.” Think about wearing sunglasses: what you see takes on the colour of the lens tint. Similarly, your interpretation of an event can be coloured by a thought distortion. Here are a few common ones:

  • Perfectionism: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job. It’s a different story when you believe that you have to do everything right all the time.
  • Catastrophizing: This is when you make a mountain out of a mole hill.
  • Jumping to conclusions: We call this “mind reading.” It involves acting as though you already know what the outcome of a situation is when you don’t.
  • All or nothing: As the name suggests, it’s either one or the other and nothing in between.

We all experience these thought distortions from time to time, but what differs is our response. Our thoughts are really important because they are connected to our feelings. When we have extreme thoughts, we tend to have big feelings too.

Here’s how to stand up to thought distortions:

  1. Stop-Pause-Breathe.
  2. Try to identify the thought you are having and isolate it. Surf the urge to judge the thought, just notice it and if possible, notice how intense your thoughts and feelings are in that moment (on a scale of one to ten).
  3. Ask yourself if the thought fits the situation. Is it reasonable to think this way given the situation? If it’s not reasonable for the situation, you might be experiencing some thought distortions.
  4. Identify the thought distortion at play and take a moment to find a more reasonable way of thinking about the situation.
  5. Now, do a quick scan and notice how intense your thoughts and feelings are.

Let’s try this again. The lights are out and it’s time for bed, but you’re wide awake. You can’t stop thinking about that encounter with your boss today. You take a deep breath and identify the bothersome thought. You believe you are going to get fired. You ask yourself if that thought fits or if you are making assumptions and catastrophizing the situation. She was abrupt, but she did say she’d talk to you tomorrow and she’s usually reasonable. It’s likely that she was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. You take another deep breath and close your eyes. You’ve broken free from the thought distortion and it’s time to get some rest.

Standing up to thought distortions takes time and practice. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a thought distortion and a challenging or uncomfortable thought. To help with this, YW Calgary is offering their Mindfulicity: Coping with Uncertainty online module for free to all Canadians until September 6, 2020. This easy-to-use, short, online tool uses animation and interactive activities to help individuals grow their skills to find healthy ways to manage the unknown. You can try our Coping with Uncertainty module for free for a limited time!