Critical Thinking: How To Handle Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are common in people with anxiety and depression, but how can we learn to live with them?

When I Googled ‘critical thinking’, I was overwhelmed with all of the detailed articles which go on to explain how you can apply it to your work, your beliefs and your values. You can use it to challenge yourself and go on to make changes in your life. That sounds great, but what if you’re really just looking for insights, rather than changes?

Personally, I have a huge love for all things psychology, so anything that allows us to delve into the mind (even just a little bit!) and find the answers, I believe, can really help us find solace and peace. Too often we take our thoughts, feelings and actions at face value, but what if there really is something lying underneath?

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that we believe to be true, without any evidence to support them. some common examples include believing that if your partner is quiet, they might be thinking about leaving you, or if people are laughing by you, they might be laughing at you. In both examples, we have nothing to support what we believe, but that doesn’t stop our brains from believing in it. Cognitive distortions are extremely common for people with anxiety and depression, and they can play a huge part in how the conditions manifest and maintain themselves.

What Is Critical Thinking, And How Can It Help Me?

Critical thinking means simply to challenge the thought, feeling or belief that we have. We believe it to be true, but how can we know it to be true? What evidence do we have?

I did something frighteningly similar to this while I was in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Using a worksheet, I challenged the thoughts that I had, what was the thought? What good was it doing and how could I see things differently?

I’ve re-created that cognitive distortions worksheet for you to the best of my abilities , entirely free of charge. Please print it off and use it as many times as you need. This worksheet really enabled me to work through some of my worst fears with my anxiety, and I hope that it will help you, too:

But What If It’s A Situation, Rather Than A Thought?

Last night, on New Year’s Eve, I made the decision to go to bed early. I more than hate New Year’s Eve, in fact, I’d go as so far as to say that, as a Highly Sensitive Person, I’m even allergic to it. At about 11:15 pm Matt put on BBC’s Hogmanay and almost immediately, I started crying. I hated this, it was so much pomp, so much drama, so much noise.

On New Year’s Eve, my anxiety goes crazy, an annual event that happens almost in time with the calendar. I fall into a cycle of hypochondria, I begin self-analysing and trying to distinguish last year’s me from this year’s me.

How will I be different this year? How will that feel like? How do I feel now? Help me!

“Please don’t make me see the New Year in on my own,” he said softly. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, we spent New Year cuddled up in bed, in a completely normal, clothes-on kind of way. Instead of the noise and pomp, we just watched the fireworks through the window, I had my annual I-don’t-know-how-I’m-meant-to-be-feeling cry, and he hugged me into the new year. I think more than ever, this year he came to understand just how difficult I find the blasted thing.

When he left, I started to feel bad. I felt like the worst wife in existence. I should be out there celebrating New Year’s with him, not stuck in bed crying!

To help me understand my thoughts and processing, I fell into some critical thinking.

Why does this matter to you?

Well, because he matters to me.

Is this the only celebration you have coming up?

No, we have our thirteen years together on Friday.

Is that not something better to celebrate?

Yes, it’s more personal.

So why does New Year’s Eve matter so much?

Because it matters to him.

Is that the only time you have with him?

No, we’re going to the aquarium on Friday.

Then is that not better? More personal?

Yes, it is.

I realised at that point, this really wasn’t a ‘me’ problem, it was a ‘him’ problem. He made it a ‘me’ problem because he was trying to force me to spend New Year’s Eve in a way that I didn’t want to spend it, by drinking alcohol, eating bad food and celebrating in that oh-so-extravagant Western way. All I wanted to do was to sleep it through, get up at a sensible time and do productive things to start off my New Year’s!

Critical thinking does not need to take hours of your time. Even just a few moments of reflection can help us become better people, or make better decisions. I thank Penny so much for helping me look at challenging these thoughts all over again, I really do, because without it, who knows where I would have landed up?

I hope this post helped you. How did you get on with the worksheet, if you tried it? Why not let me know in the comments?

Until next time,

Stay safe & have fun,

Helen xx

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