8 Types of Anxious Thinking

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

When we are anxious we tend to process information differently. We tend to develop a certain bias towards situations and events we find stressful or anxiety-provoking, and this basic mechanism is so automatic we can’t really see it for what it is. Therapists often spend time pointing out such "cognitive errors" in an attempt help people see things in a more balanced way.


Catastrophizing is about things growing out of all proportion. Typically something like a small error or a mistake will be seen as having devastating consequences.


Filtering, sometimes called selective abstraction, is about disregarding evidence to the contrary. It’s about only seeing the bad but not the good, or highlighting personal weaknesses but not strengths.


This is a form of over-simplistic thinking in which events that have occurred to your disadvantage are viewed as a mirror of personal inadequacies. For example, when missing out on a promotion, the label you apply to yourself might be ‘because I’m useless’. This is just pointlessly beating yourself over the head. The fact that the job went to someone who was possibly better qualified is simply overlooked.


Overgeneralizing is about reading too much into situations. The fact you forgot something when shopping turns into proof you are a bad mother. You buy a present that is too big and it becomes evidence how useless you are at everything you try to do.

Mind reading

Mind reading is more of an issue in people who are socially anxious. You firmly believe you know what other people are thinking about you. You actually ‘know’ they are thinking bad thoughts. Of course the reality of the situation is you can’t possibly read the mind of another person. You are interpreting – and your thoughts are your own.

Black and white thinking

Black and white thinking is also common with low moods and depression. It’s a way of seeing things as all good or all bad. If something isn’t wonderful it must be terrible. The really unhelpful thing about black and white thinking is that very few things measure up to the ‘wonderful’ category, so quite a lot of time is spent thinking things are awful.

Fortune telling

Fortune telling is that aspect of thinking where we imagine what might happen and then we respond emotionally as if it actually has happened.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.