The first step in tackling unhelpful thinking is to catch your unhelpful thoughts. Next time you are feeling anxious… notice what you are thinking, and ask yourself whether those thoughts make you feel better or worse. To help you capture your thoughts it can be useful to keep a thought diary (either on paper, or on your phone/tablet/computer… whatever is easiest for you). Make a note of what your thoughts are, and how they make you feel. Thinking about your thoughts and feelings together can really help you to identify which thoughts are likely to be helpful, and which are not. Once you have identified your unhelpful thoughts, there are a few things you can do to change them.
You already know that thinking unhelpfully can make you feel worse about things. So, take a moment to imagine how you might feel if you changed your thought patterns, and started thinking more helpfully. How do you think you would feel if you were able to tackle those unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more balanced, helpful ones?
The main aim of this section is to give you the tools you need to challenge and replace your unhelpful thoughts. You can download the activity sheet that accompanies this here.
Step 1: Decide whether helpful or unhelpful
The first step in overcoming unhelpful thoughts is to recognise them. Once you’ve made a note of your thoughts, have a look though them and decide whether they were helpful or unhelpful. Helpful thoughts are those that tend to give you hope, make you feel positive, or suggest some solutions or actions. Unhelpful thoughts are those that make you feel bad, and often don’t offer a way forward.
We all have both helpful and unhelpful thoughts at some point. By recognising unhelpful thoughts when they occur, we are better placed to do something about them.
Step 2: Challenge your unhelpful thoughts
The next step in is to actively challenge the unhelpful thoughts that you have, by standing back from them and looking at them objectively. Imagine you are a lawyer in a court room. Try to look at the facts of the situation, and ask yourself whether your thought is a true reflection of reality… or where it is distorted or inaccurate in some way. To help with this, there are a number of questions that you might want to ask yourself, depending on the type of unhelpful thoughts you are having (see below).
Step 3: Replace them
Finally, in the light of the evidence you have looking at, the aim is to replace your unhelpful thoughts with more accurate, balanced and helpful ones.
Here are some examples of how this might be done for the different types of unhelpful thoughts:
NOTE – While many people find thought challenging and balancing really helpful, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for perinatal anxiety. It may not work for everyone, and can be difficult to do at first. We suggest trying this method for at least two weeks to see if you get results. The more effort you put in, the more likely you will see (and feel!) a difference.