Fake news. It has become the buzzwords of 2020 in light of the pandemic and the recent election. We are bombarded with this saying daily, whether it is on television, news articles, or social media. No matter which candidate you voted for, many people are experiencing feelings of anxiety and fatigue. The country is divided, which has caused issues among friends and family members- arguments on social media, people being de-friended both online and in real life, and people being bullied for their political beliefs have become commonplace. While fact checking has become incredibly important in the context of the news, it is especially important in regulating emotions during this emotionally heightened time.
“Don’t believe everything you think.” This quote was written on my internship office door for the entire year, and it is an excellent reminder that we give too much power to the words that pop into our heads. We have thousands of thoughts a day, ranging from the mundane I need to buy groceries to the more negative and destructive I am not good enough. Most of us are prone to thinking in negative ways from time to time. In periods of stress, these thoughts may worsen. We may be more self-critical and less likely to notice positive possibilities, leading to feelings of anxiety and sadness.
Most of the time, your thoughts are just a story you tell yourself to make sense of the world. This is based on your interpretation of the world around you, not a universal truth about reality. Therefore, we tend to react to our thoughts and interpretations of an event rather than to the facts of the event. There is always more than one way to see a situation or solve a problem. Changing beliefs and assumptions about a situation to fit the facts can help you change unwanted emotions. This requires that you first check out the facts. So, how do we check the facts?
- Ask yourself what emotion you want to change. It is difficult to change emotions when you are unaware of what you are actually feeling. Pay attention to current thoughts, sensations, posture, action urges, and actions.
- Ask yourself what is the prompting event for your emotion. To do this, you will want to describe the facts observed through your senses. Just the facts! This event may be external (e.g., fight with friend about politics) or internal (e.g., feeling angry at ourselves for feeling afraid).
- Ask yourself what your interpretations, thoughts, and assumptions are about the event. Here you will want to consider all possible interpretations, looking at various points of view. For example, getting fired from your job (fact), and then thinking you are incompetent (interpretation).
- Ask yourself if you are assuming a threat. What negative outcome might you be anticipating from the event? What is the probability that this event will actually occur? For example, when having a stomachache, you think, “I probably have some terrible illness.” Remind yourself that you have had many stomachaches in the past that were not serious and went away quickly. You also can benefit from thinking about alternative outcomes to increase your belief that other outcomes are possible.
- Ask yourself what is the catastrophe. Here you will want to imagine the catastrophe actually occurring and then imagine yourself coping with it. We often make a bad situation worse when we engage in catastrophizing, which is exaggerating the negative characteristics of the facts and focusing on the worst possible outcome (e.g., “If I get a bad grade on a test, I will fail the class and need to repeat the grade”).
- Ask yourself if the emotions and/or the intensity of the emotion fit the actual facts. Emotions evolved as a way for individuals to respond effectively to common situations, so when this situation occurs, the corresponding emotion is likely to fit the facts. Often times, the problem is not with the specific emotion, but rather it is with the intensity of the emotion (e.g., friend politely shares their political views with you, and you react as if they physically attacked you).
Source: DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition