Don’t get down on yourself: Separating fact from fiction in surreal times

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During this difficult period for our world, it’s easy to fall into a negative thinking cycle, unhealthy behavior patterns and negative feelings. Many people report feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, and hopeless— and it is very understandable to feel this way. This is a challenging and uncertain time, many people have concerns for their own health or the health of their loved ones, their jobs/ financial situations and feel a lack of social connection due to social distancing regulations.

Acknowledging the legitimacy of our feelings, making an effort to critically examine what is “fact vs fiction,” while employing healthy coping skills and distraction techniques can be very useful during this period. Of course, all of this is much easier said than done. For many of us, reading constant headlines about sickness, death and a failing economy, all while being separated from our loved ones can be difficult to manage in a healthy, rational way.

We may find ourselves becoming angry more quickly, drinking more alcohol, or trying to quiet our emotions by eating too much food. If we can take a step back and not judge ourselves, but instead notice what coping strategies may not be serving us, we can begin to tweak our approach and make small changes that will leave us feeling healthier and happier.

The first step here is separating fact from fiction. Here’s a strategy you can try to transition your thinking (and resulting feelings and behavior) to a more positive place.

Begin by making a list of troubling thoughts/ beliefs that are coming up in your head.

My thought: ____________________

  • What is the evidence for this thought?
  • What is the evidence against it?
  • Am I basing this thought on facts or feelings?
  • Is this thought black and white or is it more complicated?
  • Could I be misinterpreting the evidence?
  • Am I making assumptions?
  • Might other people look at this differently?
  • Am I looking at all the evidence or just what supports my thought?
  • Could my thought be an exaggeration of what’s true?
  • Am I having this thought out of habit or do the facts support it?
  • Did someone pass this thought/ belief to me? Are they a reliable source or might they have a negative way of thinking?
  • Is this thought a likely scenario or a worst case scenario?

Sometimes using the above questions can leave us feeling a bit calmer and more grounded in the present moment rather than focusing on what might go wrong or catastrophizing a situation. Remember, this kind of thinking can happen to everyone, and it’s not always possible to easily “just think positive.”

On the days we can’t get ourselves to snap out of a negative outlook, it’s ok to focus on a distraction. The main goal is to work towards feeling better, happier and calmer more of the time. When you begin to intentionally implement strategies like the one above more frequently, it will start to become an automatic way of thinking. Our thoughts flow in patterns, and directly influence our brain chemistry, and we can work to change them.

Lastly don’t forget to be consciously employing self care and healthy coping strategies; watching funny shows and movies, calling or FaceTiming friends, exercising, cooking a healthy meal, meditating etc. Self care isn’t selfish— it’s more important than ever!!

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