Physical and Mental Wellness

Physical wellness refers to good body health. One´s genes are partly responsible for one´s physical health, but also other circumstances: where you live, how clean or polluted your water and the air around you is and the access to medical care. It is also the result of regular exercise, healthy nutrition, and proper rest for physical recovery.

Mental health refers to a person's emotional and psychological well-being. One way to think about mental health is by looking at how well a person functions. Feeling capable and efficient; being able to handle normal levels of stress, have good friends and family, and lead an independent life; and being able to "bounce back," or recover from hardships, are all signs of mental health.

Tacoma Public Schools currently partners with the following agencies to provide services for students  crisis intervention, family counseling, individual counseling, mental health assessments, service referral and substance abuse disorder.


Thinking Traps

Thinking Trap - The tendency to blow events out of proportion

Have you ever received a vague text message that said, “we need to talk,” and your imagination ran wild with worst-case scenarios?  Or maybe you noticed a bump on your arm and began doomsday internet searches for the worst possible thing it could be? 

The total disaster thinking trap is a form of catastrophic thinking that blows events way out of proportion.  The sky is not just falling, but it’s falling at the speed of light-headed RIGHT in my direction. It is a very common thinking trap for youth, fueled by worry and anxiety. 

There is a Buddhist parable about the first and second arrows.  The first arrow is something that goes wrong.  Maybe we get a flat tire, maybe we are late for work or perhaps we failed a test.  None of these events feel good but a few bumps in the road are a very natural part of everyday life.  The second arrow, however, is unnecessary.  The second arrow is our negative, emotional reaction to the first arrow.  With total disaster thinking, it is the second arrow that causes the most suffering.   With this thinking trap, we imagine the worst possible outcome even though it never materializes.   

For example, if we were to fail a test, with total disaster thinking we then worry we’ve become a bad student who is unable to learn. We likely imagine all the other students aced the test and they all think we are stupid. This means we are incompetent people who will never get into college or find a job and earn a good living in the future.  And now we feel horrible and hopeless.  We’ve been struck by the second arrow! 

Total disaster thinking comes on quickly and floods both our minds and emotions.  With this stinking thinking, our imagination is running amuck and creating very real feelings of fear- like we are really living through the worst-case scenario our minds are envisioning.   

Tips to disrupt Total Disaster Thinking 

The trick to disrupting the Total Disaster is to catch it quickly (name it to tame it).   Say it out loud- “I am catastrophizing right now.  Stop.”  Take a deep breath. Begin dreaming of other outcomes, even positive ones. We all experience hard times, but we are capable of moving through it.  We WILL get through it.  

Thinking Trap

If I were to tell you that I have blond hair, what assumptions pop into your mind?  If I say that I’m in my 50s, what automatic thoughts surface?  And if I tell you that I was born in the middle east, what assumptions are made?   

A stereotype is a fixed, overgeneralized belief about a particular group or class of people, without knowing if it is true for individuals. Stereotypes are the idea that everyone within a certain group shares the same characteristics. Stereotyping is often a dangerous thinking trap as it often goes unchecked for long periods of time. This bias is a habit of shortcut thinking where we try to save time and decrease processing by cueing up judgments and labels when we meet someone new.   

Of course, people don’t conform and fit into identical boxes as members of a group. We know this to be true about ourselves and our families and our friends. We are complex beings. Someone might be a huge sports fan, but not athletic. I might like rap as well as classical music. But when we think about other people, we often have a harder time understanding that complexity. So, we put people into categories, and just like that– stereotypes are formed.  

Stereotyping leads to “us” and “them” thinking.  Racial stereotypes tend to be favorable for our own skin color and negative for people that don’t look like us.  Negative stereotypes have been historically harmful to Black, Indigenous, and people of color at higher rates because assumptions, rather than personalized information were used to justify the denial of education, employment, and/or housing. Black, Indigenous, and people of color are still working to overcome the harmful impacts of negative stereotypes held both in the past, and presently today.  

We can also carry with us automatic negative thoughts about age or gender or weight or economic status or, well, just about any category.   

If we see the stereotype, we lose the person.   

Tips to disrupt Negative Stereotyping 

So, let’s be curious about individuals and learn what makes them unique.  Let’s not live in the shadow of who we are conditioned to be, but rather our authentic selves.  And let’s meet those unconscious biases with an open mind and an open heart. Let’s see people – not only for the categories they may represent but as individuals, as beautifully unique humans. And let us remember, we all have much more in common than stereotypes would suggest. 

Thinking Trap

Did you ever ace a test, getting nearly every question correct?  But all you could think about were the few you missed?  Focusing on getting those wrong answers stole the joy of doing brilliantly on the exam.   

This is a common thinking trap called negative glasses.  When we focus on the negatives and throw out the positives, we are wearing our negative glasses.   Like all thinking traps, this one is not balanced (overwhelmingly negative) and leaves us feeling lousy.  As the saying goes, “What we think about we bring about.”   

Let’s look back at the example of scoring a 98% on a test but stewing on the two wrong answers.  What if we shifted our thinking to appreciate how hard we studied and that it paid off?  What if we know we’ll learn from those two mistakes and feel good about our ability to learn and grow?  What we think impacts how we feel.   

Tips to disrupt Negative Glasses 

Step 1 to taking off our negative glasses is noticing our thoughts- name it to tame it! 

Now we can challenge our thinking to be more balanced.  What else is true about this event? 

Remember, automatic negative thoughts happen to all of us.  Let’s catch them before they take root!   

Thinking Trap

If only.  These two little words can stand in the way of our dreams and joy.  As humans, we are hardwired to want.  And we believe that once we have what we want, we’ll be happier, more fulfilled, respected and so on.  We all have days when the grass looks greener somewhere else. 

The if-only thinking trap is a sign that we feel a sense of hopelessness over our current life and helpless to make changes.  Commonly, depression and anxiety are lurking behind If-Only thoughts.  These thoughts can be addicting and habitual.  Social media often heightens our if-only thinking. 

  • If only I won the lottery, I would be happier. 

  • If only I didn’t have so much homework, I’d have time for friends. 

  • If only I wasn’t so tired after school, I would exercise and eat right. 

When if-only thinking takes over our thoughts, several things happen. It creates an unrealistic hope and in a magic solution to fix our sadness. If-only thinking feels like we don’t have to take responsibility in fixing our problems. We may unjustly blame others and expect they will have the solution to our wellness.  These automatic negative thoughts make us into victims rather than doing the challenging work of setting and working towards our goals. The locus of control is no longer inside of us, but that power is an exterior force.  This stinking thinking makes us believe events and outcomes in our lives rely totally on luck or fate or someone else.  The truth is that we feel happier when we believe our actions and abilities are the biggest determiners of success.  If-only thinking is future-focused.  It helps to remember that in our gloriously imperfect NOW, we are ok.   

Tips to disrupt “If-Only” thinking 

The first step to disrupting the if-only thinking trap is to notice when it’s happening- name it to tame it!  Notice how many times we think to ourselves, “my life will be better when….” On days that we find ourselves feeling bad about what we don’t have, it’s time to focus on gratitude for what we do have. Shifting our thinking to all that is good does wonder for our feeling of well-being. We are enough.  Keeping a gratitude journal is a healthy way to enjoy the present while striving for our goals.  Take the journaling one step further and express gratitude for others- let them know they are a blessing.  When we show gratitude for what we do have and for those around us our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. 

It is difficult to feel negative and grateful at the same time! 

Thinking Trap

We all think about future events.  Sometimes we feel excited and other times we may worry about how we’ll get through something.  This is the fortune-telling thinking trap. Fortune-telling occurs when we are certain that things will turn out bad, without supporting evidence.  When we believe the future is already set in stone and negative, we often act like it is, which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.   

Casey O’Brien Martin, a licensed mental health counselor and the founder of Whole Child Counseling, stated, “It can almost serve as a protective response in some way. If you already decide the worst possible thing will happen, then you won’t be disappointed or let down.” 

Like all thinking traps, this is not balanced thinking and is not based on facts.  For example, if we eat food that is long past the expiration date, then it is realistic to expect that the food could make us sick. There are many facts that support this thinking.  With fortune telling however, we often make guesses that are supported by our feelings, not facts. It would be fortune telling to be convinced that we’ll never be hired for a job, so we don’t even apply.  Or maybe our mind is convinced we’ll fall walking across the stage to accept our diploma, so we don’t attend the ceremony.   

Fortune telling is a negative thinking pattern that steals our joy, keeps us emotionally stuck, and adds to our anxiety and depression.  When we slip into this stinking thinking, we can balance out our thoughts to be more realistic.  

Tips to disrupt “Fortune Telling” 

  • Name it to tame it – first notice that we are having an automatic negative thought (ANT) 

  • Ask what evidence we have that this situation or event will turn out negatively.  Is this evidence and fact or fear-based thoughts?   

  • What else might happen? 

  • Consider if this way of thinking is helpful or is it harmful.  Is it causing feelings of anxiousness or powerlessness? Am I spending time worrying about an outcome that is unlikely to happen? 

  • And finally, it’s good to remember that sometimes we will struggle in life.  Worrying doesn’t prevent that fact of life.  But we can do hard things and get through tough times.  We’ll be okay. 

Thinking Trap

How do you feel when your thoughts are filled with shoulds?  I should eat more broccoli.  They should walk their dog more.  I should get an A. They should call more often.  I shouldn’t have said that.   

Should-ing is a thinking trap that tries to wrap us up in a box of perfectionism.   While it seems like a small word, it comes with a punch of anxiety and stems from fear.  Often these tyrannical thoughts slip by unnoticed but at the core of should-ing (and must-ing) there can be unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others.  When allowed to run wild, this thinking trap stifles our creativity, freedom, self-expression, and joy.   

Should-ing is a black and white thought that says if we don’t do what we should, we fail.  This thought turns up the dial on stress and pressure and steers us away from what we truly value. These types of statements often make us feel guilty and filled with doubt about something we have or haven’t done. 

Tips to disrupt Should-ing 

When we notice a should thought, try stopping and asking if this is conforming or what we really want?  For example, “I should go to the gym.”  Let’s unpack it.  Do I really want to go to the gym?  Why?  I always feel on top of the world after I exercise but it is so sunny outside, what I really want is to go for a walk along the water instead.  I could enjoy the sunshine and exercise, so I’ll find another day this week for the gym. Perhaps you say you should go to the gym, and it really is what you want. In this instance, once you have identified your want, make a plan to achieve your desires. The key to overcoming the Should-ing thinking trap is to set realistic goals and make a plan to accomplish them.    

Thinking Trap

We all know someone who must always be right. While that person thinks they are being perceived as smart and strong, they are showing their fragility. 

Having to always be right is a thinking trap where we tend to put other people on trial to prove that their own opinions and actions are the absolute correct ones. Being wrong is unthinkable because we mistakenly believe that if other people see our flaws we won’t be loved or respected. Often being right feels more important than the feelings of other people, even close family and friends, and that is toxic to a relationship.  This stinking thinking tricks us into believing that we are projecting strength, but really it is covering insecurities.  

We might notice this automatic negative thought when we interrupt or talk over others, must get the last word, or often say “yes, but.” 

The need to be the only one who is right can feel like we are constantly on the offense or defense with everyone else in the world who has a different opinion or idea.  It is hard to find happiness and peace of mind when we’re constantly in a state of anger and conflict.  Joy and defensiveness are not compatible.  Of course, this doesn’t mean we should always give in, but rather balance the need to be right with a friendly conversation that seeks to understand and listen.   

Teacher and writer Eckhart Tolle describes the need to be right as a form of violence. The compulsion to inflict our opinions on others is founded in fear. The antidote to the “always right” thinking trap is humility and compassion.  Admitting we are wrong or supporting another person’s innovative idea is a form of strength, not weakness.  It often takes courage and vulnerability to admit when we are wrong.  Yet we find that when we do, integrity feels good.  Giving grace to ourselves when we are wrong leads to peace of mind. 

Tips to disrupt the “Always Right” thinking trap 

To avoid becoming defensive, we can simply say, "That's a perspective I hadn't considered." Or just listen and nod. Listening with an open mind and heart to the reasoning behind someone else's suggestion can deepen our connection with that person.  It feels good to be heard.  It can foster balanced, mutual respect and a long-term, healthy relationship. We can remember that everything doesn’t have to be a matter of right and wrong, that can stem from the all or nothing thinking trap. Instead, of “yes, but,” we can say “yes, AND.” 

Thinking Trap

Can one word define us completely?  If we fail a math test, does it make us a loser or stupid?  Labeling is an automatic negative thought that describes who we are, or who others are, in one word.   

Defining ourselves and others based on a single event or behavior is labeling.  The truth is that we are complex beings who have good days and bad days, mistakes and moments of glory, triumphs and tribulations, integrity and indiscretions, and the full rainbow of feelings.  

When we label ourselves or others, our mind is tricked into believing that we are incapable of change.  Labeling creates distorted thinking that only that one word is the entire truth, and we discount anything that doesn’t feed into that label.  Maybe someone was having a hard day and treated us rudely.  With this thinking trap, we label the person as rude, not the behavior.  We forever stamp them as rude and view all future behavior through that lens.  This is inaccurate and superficial and feeds negative emotions within us.   

Let’s go back to the example of failing a test and labeling ourselves as dumb.  Not only does this cause unnecessary anguish and harm our self-esteem, it also can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we decide we are dumb, then why do the hard work of studying?  The healthy solution to failing a test is to study more, but labeling makes us believe there is no point to doing the hard work to solve the problem.   

Tips to disrupt “Labeling” 

Step 1 to moving away from labeling is noticing our thoughts- name it to tame it! 

All thinking traps are distorted, so challenging the label is the next step.  Is this always true?  What else do we know to be true?  Introducing shades of grey into our thoughts is helpful.   

Finally, we can shift our language to be about the behavior, not the person.  We failed a test, yet we are not a failure.  She spoke to me rudely, yet that doesn’t mean she is always rude.  Fewer negative feelings within us are stirred by this more accurate, softer language.  When we disrupt labels, problems that seem unsolvable become much more manageable. Our connections with other people become easier and how we see ourselves is far healthier.   

Thinking Trap

Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are tightly connected. Sometimes automatic negative thoughts (ANT) pop into our minds.  These thoughts often are entirely or somewhat untrue and out of balance.  It’s normal to have negative thoughts pop up, but too many negative thoughts can make us feel lousy and lead to unhealthy actions. We call these frequent common thoughts thinking traps. This series will look at a few of the most common thinking traps and how we can stomp out those ANTs.  

A common thinking trap is All or Nothing Thinking.  All-or-nothing thinking makes us think— and therefore feel — that if something is not ALL we want it to be, then it’s all wrong.  This thinking trap is rooted in perfectionism, which never gives grace or space for mistakes. All-or-nothing thinking leads us to believe that mistakes are failures, and that failure is fatal.  

The truth is, we all make mistakes; no one always says or does the right things. The truth is failure is an essential part of growth and success.  Compassion for our imperfections helps restore ease in our bodies. 

One way to quickly notice All or Nothing Thinking is with buzz words such as always, never, no one, or everyone. 

For example: “I’m no good at anything.  I always mess up.  Everybody hates me.  You are always mean to me.  Nobody cares.” 

The most crucial step to squishing an ANT is to recognize that we are having an automatic negative thought. Name it to tame it! 

Tips to disrupt “All or Nothing” Thinking 

When we hear someone else struggling with all-or-nothing thinking, it helps to ask lighthearted questions that show we care but don’t necessarily agree.  For example: “What’s going on?” or “Can you tell me more about that?”  Listen first and then invite them to reach for balanced thinking like: “Is this true 100% of the time?” or “What else might be true?” 

The next time you hear an exaggerated statement from your child, think about how you might want to respond. Calmly and thoughtfully asking a few questions can make all the difference in how your child responds and grows in wisdom.   

Thinking Trap

Did you ever hear people speaking a different language and assume they were gossiping about you?  That’s an automatic negative thought called mind reading. 

Life moves quickly and our brain often takes shortcuts.  Sometimes shortcuts can lead us into thinking traps. Mind reading is one of the most common thinking traps we experience. Mind reading is assuming what someone else is thinking without having much to go on. This stinking thinking is distorted, feels lousy, and is not based on evidence.   

We all read body language.  For example, when we are truly shocked our mouths drop open.  In this scenario, science supports our noticing of the person’s surprise.  Mind reading works differently.  For example, if we eat lunch at a restaurant alone and convince ourselves that everyone thinks we are losers and unlovable, then it becomes a thinking trap.  We do have evidence that we are eating alone, but we have no evidence it is because we are losers. Our thoughts jumped to conclusions without good facts, and often the result when that happens is overwhelmingly negative.  So often with thinking traps, our feelings feel like facts.  And when we feel as though everyone is viewing us as a loser, we tend to act differently- not our best selves.   

Mind reading is an attempt to protect ourselves.  It is often hyper-vigilance and assumes the worst in ourselves and others without any evidence.  Mind reading too often makes us more defensive, more withdrawn, aggressive, and paranoid.   

Tips to disrupt Mind Reading 

Step 1 to dismantling mind reading is noticing that it is happening- name it to tame it! 

Next, challenge the thought.  How do I know they are thinking that?  What’s the evidence? 

Finally, weigh the costs and benefits of believing the thought.  What if I’m right?  What if I’m wrong?  How does this thought serve me?  How is it making me feel?   

A bonus challenge: Act against your thought. Do something positive toward the person you think doesn't like you. 

Thinking Trap

Has there been a time where you blamed yourself for how something happened or how someone was feeling, but didn’t have justifiable reasons to do so? Has that blame ever made you feel negatively toward yourself and impacted your overall mood? This is the personalizing thinking trap.  

Personalization is a thinking trap where we believe that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to something you’ve said or done. We end up taking everything personally, even when it has nothing to do with us. Additionally, we might also see ourselves as the cause of some big negative event even though we were not at all responsible.  A common time children personalize is believing a parent’s divorce was their fault.  It is healthy to take responsibility for our actions and their impacts on others.  However, with personalizing, we take this too far and our thoughts become unbalanced and unrealistic.   

With this thinking trap, we channel too much negativity coming out of situations at ourselves. As a result, we feel sadness, guilt, fear, and shame, which makes us withdraw from those we are close to. 

Part of personalization is the very human tendency to overestimate the extent to which other people are thinking about us. In psychology, they call it the spotlight effect – we feel like we are on stage in front of the world with a big light highlighting all our flaws and we forget that everyone else feels that they are the main character in their shows, too.  The extreme version of this stinking thinking is paranoia. Paranoia is the belief that others are out to get us and don’t like us at all. A random event becomes viewed as sinister. This leaves us feeling huge anxiety.  As with all thinking traps, personalization is not balanced thinking or based on facts.   

Part of the reason so many of us fall into this trap is that we prefer negative attention to no attention.  The idea that we are insignificant in most people’s daily thoughts can be hard to swallow.  

Tips to disrupt the “Personalizing” thinking trap: 

The first step is always being aware when our minds are falling into this automatic negative thought- name it to tame it!  Next, we need to put our thoughts on trial by looking closely at all the evidence.  Feelings are not facts, so it is important to look for facts, not opinions or feelings.  Also, are we treating ourselves with the grace and kindness that we would treat someone else who made a mistake?  Being gentle with our self-talk makes for a happier heart.  We can learn and grow and skip the shame spiral.  Let’s be kind to our mind. 

Thinking Traps Poster
Thinking Traps Poster