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Are Shoulds’, Have’s and Must’s Ruling Your Life Without You Knowing?

Did you know that humans think approximately 70,000 thoughts a day? That’s roughly 2,900 thoughts an hour which turns out at 48 thoughts per minute. [1] 

Now, imagine if within every minute of every day your mind is sending constant rules and restrictions to your brain unnecessarily. Can you imagine the internal stress and mental toll this is going to have day in day out? Let alone the physical response it will manifest in your body!

Without you realizing, you could be falling into the trap of living your life in the restriction of should’s, have’s and must’s.

Should’s, have’s and must’s are a form of cognitive distortion and are a negative thinking pattern which has been shown to result in feelings of panic, depression and increased levels of anxiety. Living in such emotions/feelings on a daily basis have been linked to various headaches types such as migraine, anxiety headaches, and tension headaches. [2,3,4,5] 


Do any of the following statements sound familiar to you? 

  • “I must make sure I get everything done today and tick off my to-do list”
  • “I should be earning an income right now or else I have failed” 
  • “I have to make sure I do my meditation practice every single day without fail”
  • “I must not have a headache tomorrow because X, Y or Z is happening”
  • “I should be further along my healing journey than I am because others around me are”
  • “I have to sleep tonight or else I am going to feel awful tomorrow”


The problem is when these statements begin to creep into your life, over time they start to become absolutes and rules that we must follow, which leaves no space for compassion, self-care, and flexibility. Suddenly you are setting yourself extremely high standards and high expectations for yourself with no room to breathe which can leave you exhausted, burnt out and most likely, with a headache. 

But the great part about should’s, have’s and must’s is that they are 100% completely in our control and in fact do not need to exist at all!


At any time we have the ability to change the narrative in our minds and get rid of these distortions. 

How to release yourself from this trap?

There are several things you can do in order to set yourself free from these unnecessary rules.

Begin to implement flexibility 

The opposite to rules and restrictions is flexibility, which is key in being able to change this negative behavior pattern.

Start by looking at your day, to do list and tasks with a flexible mentality. Being able to adapt and be flexible with your plans and schedules allows you to break these rules and introduce a more balanced mindset.

For example;

“I must make sure I get everything done today and tick off my to-do list”  turns into “I have things I would like to do today however if they don’t get done I can simply address them another time. It’s no big deal.”

Revise your wording

Replace the should’s, have’s and must’s with kinder and more compassionate wording such as;

“I would prefer to do all my food prep at the weekend but if I have to do some in the evening then that’s ok”

“I would like to meditate every single day if it proves possible with the circumstances”

“I would prefer to go to X, Y, and Z without a headache but I am also capable of dealing with one if it should arise”

This simple switch in wording will help alleviate internal tension, pressure, and stress.

Divide your “have to’s” and “like to’s

There are some things in our days which we simply have to do, such as picking the kids up from school or go to a doctors appointment, however, chances are that the rest are pretty optional and could be flexible and moved around if required.

So in the morning when you wake, grab your journal and make a “have to” list and a “like to” list. You will be amazed at how small your “have to” list actually is. 

  1. Reference – How Many Thoughts Do We Have Per Day?  https://www.reference.com/world-view/many-thoughts-per-minute-cb7fcf22ebbf846
  2. How Should Statements Contribute To Panic And Anxiety
  3. Understanding The Facts
  4. Anxiety Headaches
  5. Tension-type headaches

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