Cognitive Distortions With Anxiety and Depression

By: Mark Sykes

When I brought my first car I got a great deal.? In those days we never worried over petrol consumption but being a bloke all I cared about was that it went fast.? Well actually it really just needed to be faster than my mates car - but that is another story.? It did go fast but the downside was that the steering was wonky.? In fact it really wasn't much more than a motorised shopping trolley.? I'd point it one way and it would head off in a different direction.Cognitive distortions work just like my old car.? Everything on the outside seemed OK, but even though the road was gun barrel straight, the car would interpret reality with a wobble and head off in the wrong direction.? We all experience cognitive distortions to some extent but people with anxiety and depression tend to experience greater and more frequent distortions.? A few of the most common ones are catastrophising, black and white thinking, and minimisation.

An example of catastrophising is when a family member fails to return home at the appointed time and you start believing that they have been injured or killed in a car accident.? Perhaps they hit a pole and are now crushed against the steering wheel and their head is covered in blood.? Simple and common probabilities like mechanical failure or a late meeting may actually be more probable.? Despite the probabilities catastrophising involves jumping to the worst (and unlikely) conclusions.

Black and white thinking is a tendency to interpret information in a very definitive way.? Examples would include - my boss is evil and I am a failure.? In black and white thinking there is no room for grey thinking.? Your boss may be treating you badly but when your boss is at home she may adore her dogs and maybe sponsoring a child in Africa.

Minimisation occurs when you are unable to correctly assess the value of your achievements.? This is slightly different from modesty where you know you are really good but social etiquette encourages you to down play your contribution.? A tell-tale sign of minimisation is that you can rattle off all your faults but have difficulty listing one or two of your accomplishments.





Distorted thinking is a problem because it results in misinterpreting the external world.? Perceptions become wobbly like my old car and may lead to escalating problems.? For example I may interpret a statement from my boss as sarcastic when in fact she may have just been really impressed with my work.? Next time I see her I might be sarcastic in return.? My boss starts to think I am strange and avoids me.? I then to start to think she hates me and she starts noticing how her difficult employee is having problems.

How can you reduce the problem of distorted thinking?? A simple first step is just to check out your assumption.? So when my boss frowns and says "That was a great proposal" and I suspect he was being sarcastic I could simply say "Are you being sarcastic?" to which my boss may reply "No, I truly loved the work you did on that project but I have a stomach ulcer".? Of course my boss could really be sarcastic and I don't want to know that he thinks I am hopeless.? Perhaps he intends to sack me because the proposal was so bad - why else would he have that pained look on his face. Their I go catastrophising again!

So a great tip for people experiencing anxiety or depression is to check out your assumptions.? Communication is such a hit and miss affair that we should all check out our assumptions more.

Anxiety
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