Peaceful Jaws of Avoidable Death (Countering Cognitive Distortions)

Story time

So I’m working at Chapters (Indigo) right now, and when I first got here I couldn’t figure out how to access the laptop outlets under the big work table. I fiddled a bit, but then couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for help.

So then I went to the Starbucks side of the store hoping for a table with an outlet, but they were full, except for one table where a man was packing up his stuff. But I couldn’t bring myself to stand there waiting awkwardly.

So I did a lap, and lost the table to another woman. Curses.

Now. Normally at this point I would have abandoned my mission of working in public (exposure in its own right, and something I try to do regularly). But instead, I forced myself to go ask an employee for help with the original Chapters outlets.

He was very helpful and it was only slightly embarrassing when we got back to the table and the (same) people who were (still) there watched as the employee–a kind, older gentleman–crawled (stiffly) under the table to (easily) pop open the outlet.

And then another patron made a (non-mean) joke about the employee earning his pay today. And I laughed along graciously and airily and all “Hahaha! I’m a normal human and you’re so funny and this is so not awkward AT ALL hahahaha HAHAHAHAHA okay stop laughing now.”

Anyway I’m not doing this story justice but the point is that it was AWKWARD (for me) and also a moment of bravery, because I didn’t just go home.

And now!

My last post talked about cognitive distortions, or “wonky thinking.” Check it out here: Bloodthirsty Jaws of Inescapable Death.

Last week’s post (clickable)

Based on one of your questions, I decided to do a follow-up post on how to actually challenge, or counter, those anxious thoughts.  

Countering a distortion involves asking healthier, more realistic questions to help pull you away from the brain bully’s toxic thought-vortex.

Using the same examples from my last post, here is how I would counter each distortion.

Countering cognitive distortions

Probability overestimation:

  • What it sounds like: This is for sure going to go downhill fast and end horribly.
  • How to counter it: What are other possible ways this could go? Is the Worst-Case Scenario the only or most likely outcome here?

Catastrophizing:

  • What it sounds like: If a kind-of-bad thing happens, then an even worse thing will happen, and then THE WORST will happen, and it will basically result in a zombie apocalypse.
  • How to counter it: If my worst-case scenario does come true, how bad would it *actually* be? A year from now, looking back, will I still think it’s earth-ending? [barring actual zombie apocalypse]
Rubber ducky who’s seen too much.
Photo by Tinyography from Pexels

Mind reading:

  • What it sounds like: I know what you’re thinking about me, and it’s bad.
  • How to counter it: Do I truly know what they are thinking? What ELSE might they be thinking? [there’s a very good chance they are thinking about their grocery list]

Fortune telling:

  • What it sounds like: This is going to end badly. I just know it.
  • How to counter it: Am I jumping to conclusions? Can I know FOR SURE what the future will bring?

Personalization:

  • What it sounds like: Whatever it is, whenever it happened, if it was bad, it was my fault, and I’m so, so sorry.
  • How to counter it: What other factors might be at play here? Does there HAVE to be someone to blame? Am I taking more than my fair share of the responsibility pie?
This girl is consuming all the responsibility fruit loops. Don’t be this girl.
Photo by Criativithy from Pexels

Minimizing the positives:

  • What it sounds like: You’re only calling me strong because [you don’t know me that well/I’m medicated/you’re trying to make me feel better].
  • How to counter it: Am I maybe, just maybe, focusing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?

Discounting coping skills:

  • What it sounds like: If something bad or hard happens (it will), I won’t be able to handle it.
  • How to counter it: Am I forgetting similar situations that I handled well, or at least coped with and got through?

Should statements:

  • What it sounds like: I should be better at this. I shouldn’t need so much help or time. I should never be a bother to anyone.
  • How to counter it: Would I hold a friend or relative to the same standards?

All-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking:

  • What it sounds like: If I don’t get a new personal best on deadlifts, everyone will think I slacked on training and it will just prove to them that I am lazy and undisciplined.
  • How to counter it: Is there an in-between or grey area I’m ignoring? Can there not be reason for pride even if I don’t live the heaviest weight of my life today?
You must be THIS HAPPY ALL THE TIME or it doesn’t count.
[This is wrong. You can be half this happy or any amount of happy and it still counts.]
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

Selective attention and memory:

  • What it sounds like: That one temper tantrum this morning means that my kids are miserable with me as a mother and I am not doing a good enough job.
  • How to counter it: Are there strengths in me I’m ignoring? Would an onlooker see it the same way?

Question!

I have several examples of real-life countering that I wrote down during therapy. One situation, for example, involves me mind-reading what our daycare supervisor thinks of me as a parent, and then notes on what questions I asked to talk myself through the anxiety.

Would you be interested in seeing a real-life example like this? If so, I can share it as my next post. 🙂

Closing thoughts

If you experience anxiety, remember that anxiety is a shared human experience. Some of us just experience a lot more of it and it interferes with our lives.

You didn’t choose to experience excessive anxiety. It’s not something you “deserve” because of some mistake you made or some personal failing.

This doggy would love you anyway. Tap into your inner unconditional love pup.

Mental health disorders are worthy of immense self-compassion.

We’re all just doing our own version of muddling through.

P.S. Here’s a list of just the countering questions! 😊

  • What are other possible ways this could go? Is the Worst-Case Scenario the only or most likely outcome here?
  • If my worst-case scenario does come true, how bad would it *actually* be? A year from now, looking back, will I still think it’s earth-ending?
  •  Do I truly know what they are thinking? What ELSE might they be thinking?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions? Can I know FOR SURE what the future will bring?
  • What other factors might be at play here? Does there HAVE to be someone to blame? Am I taking more than my fair share of the responsibility pie?
  • Am I maybe, just maybe, focusing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I forgetting similar situations that I handled well, or at least coped with and got through?
  • Would I hold a friend or relative to the same standards?
  • Is there an in-between or grey area I’m ignoring? Can there not be reason for pride even if I don’t live the heaviest weight of my life today?
  • Are there strengths in me I’m ignoring? Would an onlooker see it the same way?

10 thoughts on “Peaceful Jaws of Avoidable Death (Countering Cognitive Distortions)

  1. Hi Sadie! Just wanted to say thanks for these posts; although I don’t have anxiety issues, various people close to me do have anxiety in a pretty intense way, and your posts are super helpful for seeing how to be supportive to someone else. I think that for those of us “on the outside,” the knee-jerk reaction is to say something that is totally unhelpful, along the lines of “just try not to think about it,” or “the other person definitely doesn’t think that about you,” which not only doesn’t help the anxious person, but makes them feel yet more wrong and inadequate.

    I love your list of questions! Very constructive, to help someone with anxiety to break out of the negative though spiral!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Corinne!!! I had no idea you read my blog. My translation role model reads my blog. I don’t even know what to do with this information.

      Activating DON’T BE AWKWARD mode.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I wasn’t sure if the posts would be helpful or interesting to the loved ones of those with anxiety, but I hoped they would be. My husband has been my biggest supporter and a pillar of strength in my recovery, and really, he gave me a solid emotional foundation to start seeking treatment in the first place. So we’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of informed and understanding loved ones. 🙂

      And you’re right, in the past, people have said things like, “Who cares what they think?” (not your exact example but similar). And it’s totally well-meant, but the reaction of someone with social anxiety is to internally scream, “But I care! I do!” Maybe I could work on a post for friends and loved ones to help someone through an anxiety flare.

      Thank you again, Corinne. 🙂

      Like

  2. Corinne made an interesting comment about these posts helping people who don’t have social anxiety interact with someone who does. That’s what I find helpful about your blog. It really does open one’s eyes. I’m sure I have said “just ignore them” or “who cares what they think” a thousand times to someone who was in an uncomfortable situation. But by getting to learn what is going on inside the head of a social anxiety sufferer, I would never go down that road again. Thanks for helping us “outsiders” to understand.

    Great blog this time. The very concrete examples of distortions and how to deal with them will be helpful to those with social anxiety as well as us outsiders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 🙂

      For anyone who reads the comments and doesn’t know, “timscap” is my wonderful, supportive, loving dad. He’s supported my writing for as long as I can remember, and reads and comments on virtually everything, even my earlier attempts at blogging.

      My dear dad,

      It’s okay if you do sometimes say things like, “just ignore them” or “who cares what they think.” Saying the most helpful thing is just one of many ways to support someone who experiences anxiety. No one knows everything — I don’t even know what I need to hear sometimes, and that’s why there are paid professionals (who often but don’t always get it right themselves).

      Plus, there’s a certain amount of responsibility of me (as an adult now) to remember that the things people say (whether “perfect” or not) usually come from a place of love. And if they don’t, well… then there’s probably more than just unsupportive comments to deal with there.

      I think that’s an important piece for people with anxiety — learning how to get the most out of “imperfect” but well-meant (provided they ARE well-meant) comments from loved ones. Because the solution is not to chastise them all the time or avoid everyone who isn’t trained to deal with anxious thoughts.

      Education for all sides and all parties is the solution, I think. Education and empathy and compassion. xoxoxo

      Love you Papa.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the thought-challenging questions. Used them for a dilly of a pickle we’re experiencing. The one that we couldn’t undo:”Will this matter in a year?” It will. So we’re feeling pressure to not fuck (sorry, Sadie’s dad) it up more.

    The others help, so we’ll focus on the overwhelming positives from this exercise (until the negatives take over again, and then maybe we’ll challenge them all over again).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear you 💜 Sometimes the weight of the anxiety and pressure just feels too heavy to be lifted off by helpful questions. For me too.

      The questions usually help when I’m below a certain level of overwhelm. Beyond that, I want to tell the questions to fuck off because they don’t get me.

      On those days or weeks, I cling to the knowledge/hope that I will eventually feel better when the flare passes. I used to panic and think I was failing at being in recovery. But now I get that there’s an ebb and flow, and some days will really TRULY suck. They just will.

      I don’t know if that helps at all. If it doesn’t, please know that I’m not trying to make light of whatever it is you’re going through, ever. 💚

      When all else fails, the best I can do is send you strength and a virtual hug 💜💜💜

      Liked by 1 person

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