Anxious Thoughts #2: How To Challenge 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?