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Have you ever been puzzled by a young person’s reaction to a good exam result, feel that they were exaggerating, or were jumping to conclusions?

Unhelpful thinking styles could be a factor. The way a young person unconsciously thinks and evaluates the world impacts how they feel at any given moment. As we learn, we adapt and our brain begins to establish patterns and shortcuts to process and store information. This is ultimately done to help us in our daily life, however at times we can sometimes develop unhelpful thinking patterns that can cause significant distress. These unhelpful thinking styles are learnt though life experiences and are linked to our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world.

Most of us aren’t consciously aware of these unhelpful thinking patterns because they are so automatic and unconscious. The good news is that once you become aware of them you can change the way you think and feel!

By identifying thoughts and emotions, you can improve your mental health and resiliency. This can be a really helpful skill for young people to learn to reduce stress, regulate emotions and create more realistic expectations of themselves and others.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one approach that can help people identify and change the negative thinking patterns that influence our emotional responses.

What is CBT?

CBT explores how a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact. The ‘ABC’ model shows how our thoughts influence our emotional and behavioural reactions to situations.


The model suggests that people in identical circumstances can react differently depending on their thinking styles. For example, a person receiving a ‘B’ on an assignment may think ‘that was really hard and I did the best I can’ which is unlikely to provoke a strong negative reaction, whereas a different person may think ‘I’m a failure for not getting an A’ or ‘I’m not going to do well on my next exam’ thereby bringing up strong negative feelings.

Unhelpful thinking styles can distort our view of reality, leading to distress and self-defeating behaviours that keep people ‘stuck’ in vicious cycles.

It’s important to remember that we don’t think negatively on purpose – and it can be hurtful and frustrating to tell a young person to ‘just stop thinking that way’ or assume that they’re blowing it out of proportion to seek sympathy or attention.

Our thoughts in response to situations are often so rapid we don’t even notice them, even as adults. This means that adjusting these responses is a challenge, but there are ways to do this and by encouraging young people to identify their unhelpful thoughts and emotions early, you are empowering them to develop tools to improve their mental well-being for life.

Tips to tackle unhelpful thoughts:

  1. The first step is to become AWARE. Thought monitoring records can be a good tool to start with as can MoodGYM, to identify triggers and unhelpful thinking styles.
  2. Identify positive thoughts too – reinforce and use these more!
  3. Challenge should and must
  4. Encourage young people to mindfully acknowledge the existence of a distressing. thought – and remind them that it’s just a thought and is neither good nor bad.
  5. Examine ‘evidence’ for a belief, as we often exaggerate the negatives.
  6. Sometimes an automatic thought can be true – but encourage them to reframe the thought to be less negative. For example, the statement ‘I’m not very good at Maths’ could be reframed as ‘Maths is not my strongest subject, there are other subjects that I am good at.’
  7. Invite them to recall the positive things about themselves and what they do! Keeping a list helps to challenge future attempts to discount positive ‘evidence’.
  8. Create a gratitude list – think of 3 things to be thankful for each day and add to this.
  9. Encourage them to create a happy study space – using positive words, images, smells, sounds or statements that make them happy or calm.
  10. Set REALISTIC tasks and deadlines.

And remember to encourage:

  • Personal time each day to do something they enjoy
  • Connecting with family and friends – not just through social media
  • Healthy eating, exercise and sleep routines



SANE helps all Australians affected by mental illness lead a better life.

SANE Helpline: Talk to a mental health professional on 1800 18 7263 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST), or visit our peer support carer and lived experience forums.