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11 Thoughts That Cause Anxiety and Depression


One of the main things that both causes and prolongs anxiety and depression are automatic and habitual thinking patterns known as “cognitive distortions.” Cognitive distortions are errors in our thinking that cause our view of reality to become skewed. When we see a situation and our thoughts fall prey to one or more of these cognitive distortions, the result is a reinforcement of our negative emotions and moods. Many therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are based on recognizing these automatic distortions in our thinking and learning to correct them.

There are many possible distortions in our thoughts, but here are 11 of the most common thought distortions that can cause anxiety and depression:

All-or-nothing thinking

This is also known as “dichotomous reasoning.” It means we are seeing things in “black and white” with no shades of gray. Things are either entirely one way or entirely another. If something isn’t perfect, we see it as a complete failure. For example, a person may have been dieting successfully for a couple of weeks. She eats a slice of cake at a party and concludes that she has “blown” her diet. She then gives up her diet completely.


A good example of this is when a person uses words such as “always” and “never” when describing negative events that occur in their lives. “This always happens to me!”, “things never go my way!” People make generalizations about negative things that may only have happened once or just a few times and begin to see an endless pattern when, in reality, there isn’t one.

Mental filtering

We hone in and focus on the negative in a situation and completely ignore all the positives. A person may have passed a test with 30 questions, and instead of focusing on the 28 questions they got right, or the even fact that they passed the test, they focus on the 2 questions they missed. As a result, they feel like a failure instead of feeling proud and happy that they got a passing grade.

Disqualifying the positive

We convince ourselves that positive things in our lives, or positive traits that we have “don’t count.” A person may give a speech and receive a standing ovation, but tell himself: “it really wasn’t anything special . . . Anyone could have done just as well.”

Jumping to conclusions

We jump to negative conclusions right away, without any concrete evidence to support them. There are two specific subgroups in this type of thinking. The first is Mind reading. We conclude that a person (or even a group of people) is angry at us, doesn’t like us, or is judging us in some way without any real evidence to support our conclusion. The second is Fortune telling. We predict a negative outcome. We assume things are going to turn out badly, or that our worst fears will come true. Again, we do this with little to no concrete evidence to support jumping to that conclusion. We simply cannot know for sure what the future holds, or what another person thinks or feels.

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Magnification and minimization

We zoom in and give more weight and importance to the negative and lessen the importance of the positive. A person may give more weight to their faults and less to their positive qualities. In contrast, they may compare themselves with other people and minimize the other's faults and magnify their positive traits. This then leads to feelings of shame and inferiority.


This is very closely related to the last one. We give great weight to the worst outcome we can imagine. Or we conclude that an uncomfortable situation is “unbearable.” We may find ourselves trapped in a never-ending line of “what-ifs”. “What if I go crazy?”, “what if I have cancer?” etc... We get so drawn into these catastrophizing thoughts that we begin to panic.

Emotional reasoning

We conclude that something is a certain way simply based on how we are feeling, regardless of the evidence. A person may think: “I feel hopeless. So I must be hopeless.” Or even “I feel ugly, so I must be ugly.” We are unable to separate our feelings from our reality.

Should statements

We think that things “should” or “must” always be a certain way. For example, when people don’t behave the way we think they “should”, they fail to live up to our ideals and we feel disappointed. The same distorted thinking could apply to ourselves or any given situation.


This is a specific form of “all-or-nothing” thinking. We conclude based on a few facts that something or someone is either all good or all bad. We apply labels to ourselves or others, such as “jerk”, “loser”, “failure” etc... Without realizing that a person can be many things. For example, everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but that doesn’t make them a “failure.”

Personalization and Blame

We personalize a negative situation that isn’t entirely in our control. We conclude that some negative event is a reflection of ourselves and that it is our fault. For example, a husband may come home angry after a particularly bad day at work, and when he snaps at his wife she takes it personally and concludes that it must have been something that she did. On the other hand, there is blame. Instead of personalizing a situation, we blame others. For example, a spouse may blame their other half entirely for the marital problems they are experiencing without considering ways that they may be contributing to the problem.

Negative Thinking Pattern Cheat-Sheet

All-or-nothing thinking

Thinking in black and white. Everything is good or it is all bad.


You see a single negative event as a never-ending cycle of defeat. "This ALWAYS happens!"

Mental Filtering

You ignore all of the positive and instead focus on the negative aspects of a situation.

Disqualifying The Positive

You make excuses and convince yourself that something positive "doesn't count" for one reason or another.

Jumping To Conclusions: Mind-Reading, or Fortune-Telling.

You jump to conclusions about how the future will turn out (fortune telling) or about what other people are thinking about you. (mind-reading)

Magnification and minimization

Giving more weight to the negative things in our lives than they deserve, and minimizing the positive.


Your thoughts snowball into worrying about the worst-case scenario of a given situation.

Emotional reasoning

You conclude that reality MUST be a certain way simply based on how you are feeling at that moment.

Should statements

You "should" all over yourself. You think you "should" be tougher, or that you "should" have avoided certain mistakes.


A form of "all-or-nothing thinking". You attach a label to yourself or others.

Personalization and Blame

You personalize a situation that isn't entirely in your control and conclude that it somehow reflects on you. Or we may, in turn, blame someone else in the same manner.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jackie Jones

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