Stress Management Workbook 3

Thought Patterns And Stress


Exercise 1
Exercise 2
The Vicious Cycle Of Stress
How Negative Thoughts Can Snowball
Exercise 3
How Does Stress Affect Your Thinking
Exercise 4
Unhelpful Thoughts
Exercise 5
Common Unhelpful Ways of Thinking
Exercise 6
Exercise 7
Positive Thinking
Breaking The Habit
Tackling Unhelpful Thoughts
Exercise 8
Summary Quiz
Useful Contacts

Thought Patterns And Stress

The aim of these Wellbeing Workbooks is to help you learn more about stress and the things you can do to help reduce your stress when you feel very worried or anxious.

What to Expect

  • There are four workbooks altogether and they should each take around 2 hours to complete
  • The workbooks should supplement the information you are learning about mental health in your school classes
  • Each workbook has information, exercises and games to help you learn about wellbeing
  • The exercises in the workbooks are simply there to aid your learning. You do not have to share any of your answers to the exercises; you can keep them as private as you would like to
  • If you are feeling really stressed and think you would like to talk to someone about this, there are phone numbers and websites available in the Useful Contacts section

In Session 2 We Looked At:

  • How stress affects our behavior
    • Avoidance
    • Under-activity
    • Over-activity
  • How stress can affect our thought process
  • How to work on avoidance and under-activity
  • Things to help when you do too much

In Session 3 We Will Look At:

  • How stress affects our thinking
  • How to identify unhelpful thoughts and negative styles of thinking
  • How our thinking affects our feelings
  • How to challenge unhelpful thoughts

Exercise 1: How is life just now?

Using the scale below, where would you rate your quality of life this week?

Now think about what has been happening in your life recently to make you feel this way. Think about the good things and the bad.

You can write your thoughts in the notepad below.

How is life just now?

Exercise 2: What makes a good life?

Using the scale below, mark where you think you would need to score in order to feel you have a ‘good life’

How would you know that you had reached a ‘good quality of life’? What would you be doing differently compared to now, if anything?

You can write your thoughts in the notepad below.

What makes a good life?

The Vicious Cycle of Stress

Let's revisit the Cycle of Stress that we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks. This time let’s think about the thoughts section of the cycle

The Vicious Cycle of Stress

Our feelings are determined by our thoughts, so the way we think will have a big impact on how we feel

How Negative Thoughts Can Snowball

Here is an example of how each worrying thought feeds into the next. As our thoughts become more and more extreme our level of stress increases.
rain and umbrellas
  • Typical – It wasn’t raining till I got here!
  • The bus is ALWAYS late
  • I’ll be late for work
  • They will all be talking about me when I get in
  • The boss won’t be happy
  • I’ll get into trouble
  • I’ll get pulled into the office
  • I’ll get fired!

Recognising what we say to ourselves and changing it to more positive self-talk can be very powerful and significantly improve how we feel.

Exercise 3

Now you try: think of a situation you have been in where your thoughts have snowballed, and write down the sequence of thoughts that you had.

  • 1. ...
  • 2. ...
  • 3. ...
  • 4. ...
  • 5. ...

How Does Stress Affect Your Thinking?

Here are some examples of the common thoughts people have when they feel under stress. Unfortunately, these same thoughts INCREASE how stressed we feel:

  • I can't cope
  • I'm useless
  • They will all think I'm stupid
  • What's the point in trying
  • Things never go right for me
  • There must be something wrong with me
  • I just want to get out of here
  • They are all looking at me
  • They all know I can't cope
rain and umbrellas

What unhelpful things do you say to yourself when you are stressed?

Exercise 4

Have a think about the last time you felt worried, stressed or low.

SITUATION – where were you, who were you with, what were you doing?

THOUGHTS - what were you saying to yourself at the time?

How did these thoughts make you feel?

How helpful were these thoughts?

Unhelpful Thoughts

Unhelpful thoughts are:

  • Automatic
  • Seem to come from nowhere – but are actually based on our beliefs
  • Seem reasonable, so we tend not to question them

Unhelpful thoughts can:

  • Happen when our emotions change e.g. when we get stressed
  • Create more stress
  • Become a habit and get much worse if they aren’t tackled

These thoughts can take many different forms:

1. Words and sentences:
  • I will collapse if I have to wait in a big queue at the shop
  • No-one will talk to me if I go into the staff room
  • I can’t do this job anymore, it’s too much for me and everyone knows that I can’t cope
2. Images:
  • Seeing yourself lying on the shop floor, ambulance outside
  • Seeing yourself making a fool of yourself or imagining everyone talking about you when you leave
3. Memories:
  • Seeing someone else who had collapsed in a shop in the past
  • Remembering the last time you felt low or the last time you didn’t do so well at work or did something wrong

Types of Unhelpful Self-Talk

Unhelpful Self Talk

Exercise 5

Look back at your answers for Exercise 4. In any of your thoughts, do you notice:

"What if ..." thoughts?



"I can't cope with ..." thoughts?



"What is the point ..." thoughts?



"How do I get out of ..." thoughts?



Common Unhelpful Ways of Thinking

Taking on responsibility

I take on responsibility, particularly for things going wrong even when a situation has nothing to do with me.

Mind reading

I tend to assume other people don't like me / think badly of me

Jumping to conclusions

I tend to assume that the worst will happen

Over personalising

I focus on / blow small things out of proportion

Looking On The Negative Side

I tend to focus on the black side of things

Being Too Hard On Yourself

Overlooking my strengths and focusing on my weak points

Gloomy View of The Future

I overestimate the chances of bad things happening

Making extreme statements / rules

I often say I "must", "should", or "have to". I want things to be just right / perfect

Exercise 6: Complete The Word Search Puzzle

Draw with your mouse to connect the letters and complete the puzzle.

Exercise 7

Look again at the thoughts you wrote down earlier.

Use the following pages to help you identify some of your unhelpful ways of thinking about yourself, others and the future

Being hard on yourself



Looking on the negative side



Gloomy view of the future



Jumping to conclusions



Mind reading



Taking on responsibility unnecessarily



Over personalising



Making extreme statements / rules



Positive Thinking

You can learn to think more positively in the same way that you learned to think negatively but you have to practice.

Here are some positive statements to practice saying to yourself daily:

Scroll saying: I can overcome this. I am able to deal with this situation. I can ask for help if I need it. Things will get better for me. I can take control. I do have choices. I've done this before, so I can do it again.

Memory Points

  • The way we think affects the way we feel and act
  • Stress is associated with certain unhelpful ways of thinking
  • These ways of thinking become a habit

Breaking The Habit

It should be easy? To stop the unhelpful thoughts we should simply stop thinking them...but unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.

Pink Elephants:

  • 1 In your mind, picture a pink elephant.
  • 2 Now, stop thinking about the pink elephant.
  • 3 Are you still thinking about it?
Star containing the words: Often when we try NOT to think about something, we actually think about it MORE

So the question is, what CAN we do to tackle unhelpful thinking?

Tackle Unhelpful Thoughts

Here are some questions you can ask yourself that may help in tackling unhelpful thoughts:

  • Firstly, do not judge yourself for having negative types of thinking.
  • Secondly, ask yourself, what is the evidence to support this thought? Is the thought actually true?
  • What alternative views are there? What would other people say?
  • Does this thought help me? Does this way of thinking hold me back? How?
  • What unhelpful thinking styles have I noticed (see p10)? What was the result of those unhelpful thoughts?
  • What can I do to change the situation?

Example Scenario:

What typical thoughts would you think if someone you knew walked past you on the street without acknowledging you or saying hello? Might they be something like this...

  • I must have done something to upset them and they're ignoring me
  • They don't like me and don't want to talk to me
  • How dare they walk by me like that

The following examples show how you can take an unhelpful thought and change it to a more positive thought.

"I’ll look like an idiot. People will be looking at me"
Alternative Positive Coping Thought:
  • People have their own lives to think about, why would they look at me?
  • There are plenty of people not looking at me
  • Even if they do look, why does it matter? What makes me think their opinions are so valuable?
  • The last time I had to do this it turned out to be completely fine

Can you think of another positive coping thought to balance the unhelpful thought "I’ll look like an idiot"?

"My heart is beating so fast I am going to have a heart attack"
Alternative Positive Coping Thought:
  • This has happened before and I’ve been OK
  • This is just my body’s reaction to fear
  • I can manage this
  • I cannot die from a panic attack

Can you think of a different positive coping thought? You can write it in the box below:

"I am useless"
Alternative Positive Coping Thought:
  • I might not feel good about myself right now but I have done things that are worthwhile
  • Everyone has bad days
  • That didn’t go as well as I had hoped but that doesn’t mean I am useless

Can you think of a different positive coping thought? You can write it in the box below:

Exercise 8

In this exercise, think back to some of your unhelpful thoughts and then try to come up with a more balanced alternative thought

Unhelpful Thought Balanced Point Of View

Memory Points

  • Notice the unhelpful thoughts you are saying to yourself
  • Challenge these thoughts and come up with more balanced alternatives

And Finally

Over the next week, notice what goes through your mind when you feel stressed or low.

Try to tackle any unhelpful thoughts by using the techniques from the exercises you have done in this workbook.

If you identify any unhelpful thinking, try to ask yourself:

What is your evidence for this thought
What alternative views might there be
Notice if you feel differently once you have asked yourself these questions and have challenged your way of thinking

Summary Quiz

Q1: Which of the following diagrams represents the vicious cycle of stress?

  • a. Feelings → Worrying Thoughts → Behavioural Changes → Stressful Situation → Bodily symptoms
  • b. Worrying Thoughts → Feelings → Bodily Symptoms → Stressful Situation → Behavioural Changes
  • c. Stressful Situation → Worrying Thoughts → Bodily symptoms → Feelings → Behavioural Changes

Q2: Our feelings are primarily determined by our _____

  • a. Intelligence
  • b. Personality
  • c. Thoughts

Q3: What do we mean when we say "negative thoughts can snowball"?

  • a. When one negative thought takes over your mind.
  • b. When one negative thought leads to another negative thought and so on, with each thought becoming more and more serious.
  • c. When you have several negative thoughts about different things in your mind at once.

Q4: Unhelpful thoughts are _________ and ______

  • a. Voluntary and based on beliefs
  • b. Automatic and come from nowhere
  • c. Automatic and based on beliefs
  • d. Voluntary and come from nowhere

Q5: Common unhelpful ways of thinking include...

  • a. Taking on responsibility, mind reading, jumping to conclusions
  • b. Under personalizing, mind reading, making extreme statements
  • c. Having a gloomy view of the future, not taking on responsibility, jumping to conclusions

Q6: Ways to tackle unhelpful thoughts include...

  • a. Not judging yourself for having the thought, ignoring evidence which suggests the thought may not be true, questioning how helpful the thought is
  • b. Judging yourself for thinking so negatively, questioning if there is any evidence to support the thought, questioning how helpful the thought is
  • c. Not judging yourself for having the thought, questioning if there is any evidence to support the thought, questioning how helpful the thought is

Useful Contacts

  • Childline
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Mind
    • Promotes views and needs of people with mental health problems
    • Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
  • NHS
    • Young suicide prevention
    • Phone: 0800 068 4141 (Mon-Fri,10am-5pm & 7-10pm. Weekends 2-5pm)
  • Rethink Mental Illness
    • Support and advice for people living with mental illness
    • Phone: 0800 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-4pm)
  • SafeSpot
    • An app and website designed for young people to improve coping skills and access information about mental health
    • App: available on Google play/Apple store for free
  • Samaritans
    • Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair
    • Phone: 116 123 (free, 24hour)