During these challenge times, it can be particularly difficult to stay positive. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and important fight for justice, many individuals are likely feeling particularly overwhelmed. Although current events and keeping up with the news can make it seem difficult to remain positive and mentally tough, there are steps you can take to retrain your brain to think more positively.
It is normal to have negative thoughts, but regularly engaging in negative self-talk and negative thinking patterns can become problematic. Negative thinking patterns, which are also known as cognitive distortions, can negatively impact mental health making individuals feel more anxious or even depressed. This post will discuss what cognitive distortions are and tips for curbing negative thinking patterns.
What Are Cognitive Distortions?
Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause individuals to inaccurately view reality and can lead to worsening negative emotions, anxiety, and depression. Your brain creates an emotional response after an event is interpreted, judged, and labeled, and often this process involves automatic negative thoughts. It’s important to recognize that automatic thoughts, which are images or words that pop into the head, are not factual statements. In fact, although they can seem unimportant in the moment, they can be rather impactful and even harmful.
Since the way you communicate with yourself can have such a significant impact on mental health, it is important to understand how to combat negative thoughts. Although it’s impossible to always be positive, it’s important to recognize cognitive distortions and understand their potential impact on your overall well-being. Once you recognize cognitive distortions, it’s possible to retrain your brain to think more positively.
David D. Burns identified 10 common cognitive distortions in his 1980 book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
- Personalization and Blame: You blame yourself and feel responsible for things, some of which you may have no control over. E.g., My spouse had a bad day at work today because I’m a bad partner.
- Mental Filter: You fixate on a single negative detail of a particular situation. E.g., A student left during my presentation, so I must have done a bad job.
- Emotional Reasoning: You believe that something is true based solely on the way you feel about it. E.g., I feel jealous, so I think my partner is cheating.
- Over-generalization: You apply the result of a single negative experience to all future related experiences. E.g., I got let go from my last job, so eventually I will be fired from my current job.
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: You view a situation as either bad or good and fail to see a middle ground. E.g, I didn’t get the exact job offer I wanted, so it’s a bad offer.
- Discounting the Positive: You minimize or reject the positive aspects of situations. E.g., Since I only walked 2 miles today instead of 3 like I had planned, I’m a failure.
- Jumping to Conclusions: You conclude, without sufficient information, how a situation will go or how someone else feels. E.g. My brother didn’t call me last week like he usually does, so obviously he is mad at me.
- Magnification/Minimization: You exaggerate or minimize the importance of something. E.g., I got an F on the test so I will fail out of school.
- Should statements: You criticize yourself or others using “should statements.” E.g. I should have prepared more for the interview.
- Labeling: You assign a label to yourself or others based on an event or characteristic. E.g. My coworker didn’t want to get lunch with me because she thinks I’m boring.
Retraining Your Brain
Since negative thoughts can impact well-being, it’s critical to consider how you are interpreting and processing information. In addition to recognizing cognitive distortions, learning how to turn negatives into positives and focusing on self-care can help individuals improve mental health. Challenging your inner critic is empowering and can ultimately help you learn more about yourself and grow as a person.
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