Cognition is a huge part of mental health. That’s why I have dedicated the letter “C” from the A to Z blogging challenge to cognitive aspects of depression. I have already talked about the cognitive dysfunction experienced by some depression sufferers and how to combat those symptoms. Today I want to talk about a popular topic in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), cognitive distortions.
What is CBT? CBT assumes a relationship between thoughts, mood and behaviour and by changing maladaptive thinking, you can change your mood and your behaviour. The idea is to challenge your negative way of thinking. These automatic negative thoughts are called cognitive distortions. There are methods to counteract these cognitive distortions but first, you must learn to catch yourself in a negative thought. To do this I kept a Thought Record. I recorded the situation, what I was thinking and the cognitive distortion. Here is a list of the most common cognitive distortions.
- All-or-Nothing Thinking. This is when you look at things in absolute categories; black or white. You forget about the continuum, the shades of grey. If you make a mistake, you see yourself as a total failure.
- Over-generalization. This is when you look at a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. If it happened once, it will always happen.
- Discounting the Positives. This was one of my first posts. You ignore your accomplishments and good qualities. It’s like they don’t count for anything.
- Mind-Reading. You assume you know what other people are thinking, failing to consider more likely possibilities. For example, when someone laughs, you think they are laughing at you, but really they are probably having a conversation or remembering something cute their kid did that morning.
- Labeling. You identify yourself with your short-comings instead of considering a more complex reality. Instead of shrugging off a mistake, you conclude you are a loser because of it.
- Magnification/minimization. You blow a negative situation out of proportion or shrink a good situation inappropriately.
- “Shoulds”. You motivate and criticize yourself with “shoulds”, “ought to’s”, “have to’s” and “musts”.
- Emotional Reasoning. You feel it therefore you are. I feel fat therefore, I must BE fat.
- Personalization. You blame yourself for something that wasn’t entirely under your control. I blame myself for not getting a lot of research data. In reality, there are a lot of factors that contribute to this. For example, people don’t want to participate!
- Filtering. You dwell on the negative and ignore the rest of the situation.
- Catastrophizing. You automatically assume the situation will turn out badly without considering other outcomes. You fear one negative event will be part of a chain of negative events without end.
- Selective abstraction. You jump to conclusions without having all the facts.
Once you are able to identify these cognitive distortions it is time to come up with a strategy to challenge them. Being a scientist, I find it easiest to look at the facts of the situation. What are the facts? What information do I have to support my thoughts? What is the proof? You can use previous experiences too. What has happened in similar situation? How did I cope? What have I learned that will help me this time? This line of thinking does not come naturally. You have to literally stop what you are doing and think about it, ask yourself these questions. The good news? It does get easier and more natural over time. It has helped me to manage my anxiety. I hope it helps you too.