After  my blog post last Thursday on Stress, I felt there was so much more I wanted to say… so I’m continuing my post on stress into a 2nd post.

A lot of what can also cause stress anxiety is called, “Cognitive Distortions”, and there are several different kinds… (courtesy of

All-or-Nothing Thinking: This is when we look at things as “black or white” categories, with absolutely NO grey area. An example of this would be, “If I do not do this completely right, I am an total failure”

Overgeneralization: This would be like taking 1 bad experience, and expecting it to forever be the case. An example would be, “I didn’t get hired for the job. I’ll never get any job.” or “I didn’t do well on this test, I’m going to do poorly on all my classes this semester.”

The Mental Filter: Focusing on the negatives while filtering out all the positives. noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that were right.

Diminishing the Positive: Creating reasons why positive events “do not count.” This would be accounting positive things to happenstance, chance, or luck. For example, saying to yourself, “I did well on the presentation, but that was just dumb luck.”

Jumping to Conclusions: Interpreting events as negative without evidence or proof that they are actually negative events. You act like a mind reader or fortune teller. For example, “I can tell she secretly hates me” or “I just know something terrible is going to happen.”

Catastrophizing: This is essentially being pessimistic. You expect the worst case scenario to happen. For example, “The oil light came on in my car… that’s it, my car is ruined and destroyed, I just know it.”

Emotional Reasoning: This is when we believe that the way we currently feel is the absolute reality of the situation. For example, “I feel frightened right now. That means I must be in physical danger.” We can feel certain ways because we misinterpret situations, that doesn’t me that is what is exactly going on.

“Shoulds” and “Should-nots”: This is when you hold yourself up to a strict list of what you should and should not do, beating yourself up if you break any of the rules. This would be the definition of a true perfectionist.

Labeling: Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser”)

Personalization: This is when we assume responsibility for things that are outside our control. For example, saying, “I’ts my fault my son got in an accident. I should have warned him to drive carefully in the rain.”

So – In addition to what you said in your previous post on stress… is there anything else I can do to destress?

Why yes, there is! I think it can be helpful to challenge your cognitive distortion if you notice yourself having one of the above distortions in your thinking.

  1. First identify, when you are stress or anxious, which of the above you find yourself having. Write down the cognitive distortion… write down what the distortion is, and how it has caused problems (emotional or otherwise) in your life.
  2. Try thinking or writing down what’s wrong with this idea. What about itmakes it a distortion? How is it exaggerated, illogical, unrealistic, or unreasonable?
  3. How has this distortion pushed you or others around? What consequences have you experienced by holding onto this belief?
  4. Is holding onto this belief helping you get what you want? or is it hurting you in some way?
  5. Does any proof exist to support this distortion?
  6. Imagine you’re talking with someone else who holds this irrational idea, and you are trying to explain to them why it does not make sens to think that way. What arguments would you use to convince them?

Once you’ve gone through all the above questioning, try to notice in your everyday life when you feel that this old unhelpful idea seems to be the cause of a future stressor. Go over what you did to challenge the thought before.

What other ways have you questioned your irrational beliefs in the past? Have you thought of any other cognitive distortions I have not listed here?

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Common Cognitive Distortions
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