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Feelings of anxiety and a loss of control because of COVID-19 are common. We are experiencing constant changes to our lifestyles, our work, daily schedules, interruptions to plans, etc. During this time, we may experience thoughts like “there is nothing I can do” or “this will never end”. We may also experience depressive thoughts with our losses. Many of our thoughts may actually be thinking traps!
When we feel upset or worried, our thinking tends to be overly negative. These thought patterns, “thinking traps”, are also called cognitive distortions. Here are some examples:
Magnification and catastrophizing – seeing things worse than they really are and focusing on the “worst-case scenarios”. We may do this to our present situation:
“I can’t even go out – how can I do anything useful? This is the end of the world.”
Or we may look into the future bleakly:
“I will never get to go outside again… I will never be able to recover from my financial losses… My child’s learning and future is totally ruined… As a target of discrimination, I will never be accepted in society again…“
Jumping to Conclusions – Without evidence, we may come to believe certain thoughts and assumptions are facts.
“I’ve read this on social media. This must be true. There is a conspiracy going on and we are all unsafe.”
“I’ve read that older people are vulnerable. I’m old. I will not survive this.”
Personalization, Blame, and “Should’s” – Sometimes, we may have unreasonable expectations of ourselves or others, even for things that cannot be foreseen or things that are out of people’s control.
“Someone must have done something wrong to cause the pandemic.”
“The government should have prevented the virus.”
“I should have not let me loved-one get sick – there must have been something I could have done differently.”
Black and White thinking – We may only be able to see two sides to a situation. If it’s not all perfect and good, then it must be completely bad and useless. This can lead to rigidity as opposed to flexibility. We may even discount the positive aspects too.
“I can’t visit my family and friends. Seeing them on screen is not the same, and it’s a complete waste of time.”
“I am now doing so little compared to last month. I’m useless. Life is meaningless. What’s the point?”
“Sure, there’re less people getting infected, but there are still news cases every day. There is just no good news.”
Getting out of thinking traps
Being aware of your thinking traps is the first step. We can remind ourselves that these types of thoughts are not always facts by asking ourselves a few simple questions:
- Is there another possible way to think about this situation?
- Am I falling into a “thinking trap”?
- What evidence do I have for and against this thought?
- Has this worry occurred before? If so, what was the outcome? How did I cope?
- How helpful is it for me to think this way?
Instead of being stuck with this thought:
“I am elderly, and so many older people are getting extremely ill. I will die from this.”
You can ask the 5 questions above, and come to a more balanced thought, such as:
“I am at a higher risk because I am elderly, but I am also taking all of the recommended precautions. I have a good support network, and I am taking steps to stay healthy. I will most likely get through this just fine.”
Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic can include a wide range of emotions that we may experience at different times. It is important to know that this is a common response and there are many tools available to help us cope and manage the strong emotions that we may feel, including re-examining our own thoughts and assumptions.