It can be a difficult time of the year. And you’re doing all you can to manage mood and anxiety challenges as it is. So the last thing you want to do is create more misery. Believe me, cognitive distortions would lend you a hand. Don’t let ’em spoil your fun.

If you can’t accept the fact that how and what you think significantly contributes to your mood and anxiety misery, you need to reconsider.

Eight years ago, I posted an article that included these 15 cognitive distortions. Given the potential for high emotional and mental stress during the holidays, I spruced it up so I could bring the distortions to you again.

Let’s dig-in.

Can you picture yourself saying something like this?

Oh no, the family Christmas dinner is tomorrow. What if I have a monster panic attack as soon as I sit at the table? I’d be humiliated! I mean, I’d have to leave. Nope, can’t risk it. I’m going to cancel.

That load of defeatist self-talk, with the classic “What if?”, is a sterling example of catastrophizing. And catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion.

Millions of people are making similar observations and statements. And the vast majority of them, in short order, come to realize they’re wrong.

What is a cognitive distortion?

So, what’s a cognitive distortion? In the world of cognitive theory and therapy, a cognitive distortion is an exaggerated and most often irrational thought that can generate immediate and chronic mood and anxiety woes. And we have to remember, what we think drives how we feel and, subsequently, behave.

Can you see why cognitive distortions are so powerful?

15 Cognitive distortions

am i having a panic attack

“You really want me to go? But the panic attack and humiliation. Okay, okay – I’ll think about it.”

If you can’t accept the fact that how and what you think significantly contributes to your mood and anxiety misery, you need to reconsider.

Come on, recall a few times when you thought your way into a state of depression, anxiety, or stress. Heck, it may have happened just a few hours ago. And if you can’t come up with anything, that may mean your negative thoughts are flying under the radar. Happens to many of us.

Carefully consider these 15 cognitive distortions and see if any of them hit home. Becoming aware of how you’re thinking is the first step toward relief…

  1. Catastrophizing: Disaster is the expect. As soon as we catch wind of a problem, on come the “What if’s?” and grossly inaccurate and unfair conclusions. There are seemingly no limits to our fertile catastrophic imaginations.
  2. Filtering: Taking the negative details of a situation and magnifying them, while filtering-out the positives.
  3. Polarized Thinking: Also known as splitting. Thinking in absolutes – black or white, good or bad. There’s little room for middle ground here, as most everything is perceived in extremes.
  4. Overgeneralization: General conclusions are made based upon a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens, we expect it to occur again and again.
  5. Mind Reading: Being sure we know what people are thinking and feeling, and why they act as they do. Problem is, we can’t read minds. This especially applies to their feelings about us.
  6. Personalization: Everything that goes on around us is related to us – some kind of reaction to us. We’re constantly testing our value as a person by measuring ourselves against others.
  7. Control Fallacies: This is a distortion of our sense of power and control. If we feel externally controlled, we perceive ourselves as hopeless – a victim of fate. If we feel we’re internally controlled, we feel responsible for the feelings of others.
  8. Fallacy of Fairness: We become resentful as we believe we know what’s fair, but others don’t happen to agree. It’s a convenient and self-serving definition of fairness.
  9. Blaming: Holding others responsible for our pain.
  10. Shoulds: We have ironclad rules about how we and others “should” act. When these rules are broken, we get angry. And when we break them, we feel guilty.
  11. Emotional Reasoning: It’s an automatic that what we feel has to be true. For instance, if we feel stupid or boring, we must be stupid or boring. If we feel guilty, we must have done something wrong.
  12. Fallacy of Change: Expecting others will change to suit our needs if we apply enough pressure. And this occurs because our hopes for happiness seem to entirely depend upon others.
  13. Global Labeling: Generalizing one or two qualities in ourselves and others into a negative global judgment, ignoring all contrary evidence.
  14. Being Right: Feeling as though we have to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Actually, being wrong is unthinkable, and we’ll go to any lengths to demonstrate our rightness (righteousness?).
  15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: We expect all of our sacrifice and self-denial to pay-off. And we feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come as expected.

Anything hit home? By the way, if you’ve identified with one or more of the above, doesn’t it feel comforting to know that how you think is recognized and shared by others? It’s always helped me feel much less, shall we say, weird.

Be Aware

Some creative minds came up with those terms. But human nature delivered the thinking – feeling and behavior. They’re real, and they play a major role in any mood or anxiety presentation. How could they not?

Again, this can be a tough time of the year. You may already be emotionally and mentally struggling. Don’t allow cognitive distortions to add fuel to the fire. And don’t let ’em spoil your fun.

Be aware of how you’re thinking.

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