May 4, 2022
By Peter Grinspoon, MD, Contributor, Harvard Health Publishing
Ruminative thinking — negative thought patterns that loop repeatedly in our minds — is common in many psychiatric disorders. This type of thinking also contributes to the unhappiness and alienation that many people feel. One certainly doesn’t have to have a psychiatric diagnosis to ruminate unhelpfully. Most of us do this to a certain extent in response to our anxieties about certain situations and challenges. Rumination can represent an ongoing attempt to come up with insight or solutions to problems we are concerned about. Unfortunately, with the presence of these cognitive filters, it can devolve into a counterproductive and depression-worsening type of brooding. These unhelpful filters make whatever life circumstances we find ourselves in that much more anxiety-provoking and challenging.
The main cognitive distortions are as follows (and some of them overlap):
Finally, many of us engage in emotional reasoning, a process in which our negative feelings about ourselves inform our thoughts, as if they were factually based, in the absence of any facts to support these unpleasant feelings. In other words, your emotions and feelings about a situation become your actual view of the situation, regardless of any information to the contrary. Emotional reasoning often employs many of the other cognitive filters to sustain it, such as catastrophizing and disqualifying the positive. Examples of this may be thinking:
A big part of dismantling our cognitive distortions is simply being aware of them and paying attention to how we are framing things to ourselves. Good mental habits are as important as good physical habits. If we frame things in a healthy, positive way, we almost certainly will experience less anxiety and isolation. This doesn’t mean that we ignore problems, challenges, or feelings, just that we approach them with a can-do attitude instead of letting our thoughts and feelings amplify our anxiety.
As someone who used to be an expert in getting tripped up by all these filters, I’ve learned to remind myself that whatever comes up, I’ll deal with it as well as I can. I try to trust my future self to cope, in an effective way, with whatever life will throw my way. As such, there’s no reason to worry about potential future problems in the here and now. If I worry about what might happen, then I have two problems: whatever hypothetical challenge that might not even come up in the future and a lot of unhelpful anxiety to contend with. As they say in the science fiction masterpiece Dune, “fear is the mind-killer.” Being anxious or afraid certainly makes me less effective, no matter what I’m trying to accomplish.
A wise therapist once told me, as an example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, they are just cutting off a random car, not you, because they have no idea who you are. So there’s no reason to take it personally. To personalize situations like this just makes you upset. If you don’t take it personally, it changes it from “jerk cut me off” to “people should drive more safely.”
I also avoid unnecessary catastrophizing (though this can be difficult when thinking about all that is happening in our world, including climate change). Above all, I try not to slip into emotional reasoning. None of us are devoid of all emotions that could undermine our logical processes. Everyone backslides and falls into old habits. We aim for progress, not perfection.
If you can set yourself free from these unhelpful cognitive filters, you will be more successful, more relaxed, and more able to enjoy your relationships.
If you need assistance with challenging cognitive distortions, professionals such as therapists and coaches are skilled at helping people change unhelpful ways of thinking. If you are unable to find or afford a therapist or a coach, there are other resources available, such as apps to help with mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy, mutual support groups, group therapy or group coaching (which can be less expensive than individual treatment), employee assistance programs through your job, or online communities. Your primary care doctor or your health insurance may help connect you with other resources.
Original Article can be found here:https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-recognize-and-tame-your-cognitive-distortions-202205042738