Have you ever been told to look on the bright side? Perhaps someone has told you to think more positively? Positive thinking has gotten a bad reputation for sugar-coating, denying, and disrespecting the way people struggle. And for good reason. Job stress is real. Anxiety is a thing. Parenting can leave you feeling exhausted at the day. Switching into a more positive outlook can do wonders. But if positive thinking sounds too the-hills-are-alive for you, consider switching from positive thinking to thinking clearly.
Don’t Miss This Crucial Step!
Before jumping to thinking more positively and hoping for the best, try acknowledging that the struggle is real. When we can acknowledge to ourselves that work is stressful, anxiety has been running to show, or it was a tough day being a parent, our defenses lower. We give ourselves empathy. We feel heard. Understood, even if by ourselves. Once our defenses are down, we can begin addressing the thought patterns causing us trouble.
Are Your Thoughts Causing You Problems?
Once you’ve extended yourself a little empathy, it is time to explore – are there any thought patterns chronically causing you trouble? Back in the day, psychiatrists Aaron Beck and David Burns set up the initial structure for understanding specific thought patterns that can create anxiety, depression, stress and conflict. They called them cognitive distortions Positive thinking: Reduce stress by eliminating negative self-talk – Mayo Clinic.
What are cognitive distortions? And why you want to know about them!
Ever have someone tell you that you’re overreacting? Or perhaps your reaction to something is bigger than those around you? One cause could be cognitive distortions. Simply put, cognitive distortions are thoughts that are exaggerated or irrational is some way. They are automatic and can happen lightning fast in reaction to a situation. Being aware of cognitive distortions can go a long way to helping us stay calm, confident and in control of ourselves.
Four Common Cognitive Distortions
Warped thinking can lead to conflict, anxiety and depression. Here are some common cognitive distortions you may be familiar with:
All or nothing thinking
Absolute or polarized thinking such as “either I’m good or bad” or “this relationship works or it doesn’t”. When in reality, very few things in life are absolute. No job, for example, is all good or all bad. Each has challenges and benefits – even if the benefit is simply the paycheck.
Address this cognitive distortion: look for the middle road, find the good and bad in situations
Not looking at the big picture
Especially when stressed or anxious, we can have a tendency to hyper focus on what we are dissatisfied with or worried about. This causes us to feel like there is nothing else. One example might be: “Why does my family only fight?”
Address this cognitive distortion: try to expand your view to the whole picture, for example, what times does your family not fight? When was the last time things were calm?
Taking blame for something you have nothing to do with. For example, “My co-worker hates me.”
Address this cognitive distortion: look for things that could be going on for the other person, what in their background might lead to their behavior? For example, “My co-worker’s marriage is in a real rough patch” or “My co-worker struggles with working with others”
Imagining the worst case scenario
If you struggle with anxiety, take a good look and see if this one is lurking around. Also called “catastrophic thinking”, imagining the worst case scenario is a biggie when it comes to anxiety and panic.
Address this cognitive distortion: If you’re going to imagine what could happen, imagine as many good outcomes as bad.
Cognitive distortions are common but they can cause havoc in our lives. Addressing cognitive distortions can go a long way to decreasing depression, anxiety, and conflict in relationships. Get Started – Oak Point Counseling