Deadlines, illness, moving, and mean people are obvious sources of stress. We can point to these events and say “this is why I feel so anxious!” Identifying internal stress is trickier because we are not always aware that our thoughts are freaking us out. Although each person’s internal dialogue is unique and special, there are patterns to stressful thoughts. Classic cognitive behaviorists like Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, and David Burns have labeled these negative thought patterns as distortions because in one way or another, the thoughts are a twist on reality that is believable and triggers an emotional response that makes problem solving harder.
In less than one month over 150 writers will be traveling to Oklahoma City for the annual conference. Many of them have submitted manuscripts or essays to be critiqued and JUDGED at contest. There will also be BIG TIME bestselling authors and INFLUENTIAL agents and editors to meet and greet.
Can you hear the buzz of excitement? Do you sense the spiral of anxiety? Hopefully these stinking thinking examples tailored to writers will demonstrate the universality of anxious thoughts:
All or nothing: If I am not perfect, I am doomed.
“If I do not place at contest (or get a positive response from an agent) this will be a complete waste of my time and money.”
Overgeneralization: One small piece of evidence is applied globally.
“Last year I totally screwed up my pitch with the agent, I always mess up when the pressure is on.”
Judgment (Fortune Telling or Mind Reading): Negative assumptions are truth.
“Everyone else is confident at these events; I am awkward and inept at small talk.” Or “I didn't get the appointment time I wanted; the editor probably doesn't want to tell me bad news before lunch.”
Catastrophizing: What if . . . then there will be disaster.
“If I don’t publish something soon I am a total loser and have no business trying anymore.”
Emotional Reasoning: I feel therefore it is so.
“Something terrible is going to happen at the conference this year, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I can feel it in my bones. Maybe I won’t go.”
Should Statements: I am not normal.
“I’m not good enough to make an agent appointment- I shouldn't even bother.”Or “I should have a contract by now.”
The gurus are quick to point out that the longer you obsess on a negative thought the more real it becomes for you. Reduce internal stress by recognizing stinking thinking before it gets out of control and interferes with enjoying life as it comes. Challenge self-defeating thoughts- there are so many opportunities that you don’t want to miss by freaking yourself out!