Should Statements

Reduce anxiety and depression by challenging common cognitive distortions

I don’t know if you remember hearing this phrase but it’s been playing in the back of my mind lately. “Be Kind, & Rewind” was the ‘motto’ for your friendly neighbourhood Blockbuster Video! 

One of my favourite things to do on a Friday night was to browse the shelves at Blockbuster for what felt like hours…and then probably go home with the same Disney movie I rented the week before. Kids today will never understand the irritation of excitedly putting your VHS tape in the player only to learn that the previous renter didn’t rewind, and you now have to wait. Ugh!

I often compare that nasty voice that tells us we must keep going, we must keep performing, we must not rest, to a tape much like the old VHS tapes. Our tapes have been recording our negative thoughts throughout our lives and tend to play through our minds so incessantly that we are unaware of the messages they are repeating. 

I can almost guarantee that the most common themes on your mental tape are statements telling you how you ‘should’ think, feel and behave. 

Our ‘should’ statements have the power to get us totally stuck.

should have a super clean home. I should always look ‘put together’. I should say yes, any time someone asks me for help. I should never make mistakes. I should exercise every day. I should be happy. I should never feel anxious. I should know how to do that. I should be able to do it all.

Did anyone else feel their anxiety rise just reading those examples? 

When we are using words like “should”, we are putting expectations on ourselves that come from somewhere else, and therefore are not based in reality. We are setting ourselves up for failure. It leads to feelings of guilt and frustration with ourselves and others, keeping us trapped in very negative thought patterns.

Here are a few simple suggestions to help get out of the ‘should’ trap;

  1. Recognize the ‘should’ statements.

Often, these statements have become so ingrained that we don’t even notice they are playing in the background. The first step is to become actively aware of what we are saying to ourselves. 

  1. Be kind to yourself! 

When we are using ‘should’ statements, we are focusing on the negative and ignoring reality. Practice self-compassion to better manage your expectations and shift your thinking. 

(In the words of an old nun who had this sign above her desk, “Today I will not should on myself!)

  1. Rewind the thought by challenging and reframing it. 

Who says you ‘should’ be doing or not doing that? Is it true? What would happen if you didn’t? When we are able to re-play the thought with a bit more perspective (and self-compassion) we can change our ‘should’ statement to something more balanced and productive.

*Pro-tip: Pick one of your most common ‘should’ statements and change it to a ‘could’ statement. Does it feel any different? It’s amazing the impact small adjustments can make.

If you want some support in challenging your ‘should’ statements, one of our therapists would love to help.

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