by Jessica Smith, LCPC
By now you should be fairly familiar with some of the most common cognitive distortions (check out Parts III, IV, and V for examples), and hopefully you’ve been able to pinpoint when you’ve engaged in them when experiencing anxiety in the past. As I mentioned in previous posts, the good news is we can work on changing them, but in order to be able to begin this work, you first need to realize when they are happening!
CBT practitioners will sometimes give their clients what’s called a dysfunctional thought record to use as a framework for changing negative thoughts. This record is a chart that helps us to recognize and organize our thoughts as they are occurring.
The first half of this chart is typically broken into columns titled date/time, situation, automatic (negative) thought, corresponding cognitive distortion, and associated feelings. Now sometimes when we begin to work on this, it is easier to catch ourselves feeling anxious, rather than trying to catch our thoughts, as we are typically more in tune with our feelings. Then, once you realize you are feeling anxious, try to recognize what thought is causing the anxiety.
Once you are able to identify what exact thought is making you feel anxious (or angry, guilty, sad, etc.), you can then identify which cognitive distortion is occurring.
The next step, according to CBT, would then be to examine the evidence for and against this thought, which is another column in the dysfunctional thought record. Now remember, cognitive distortions are thoughts that are not based in reality, so you should be able to find evidence to refute the negative thought!
When we have been thinking in certain ways for so long, it can be very difficult to change and to see other possible perspectives. A good therapist is unbiased, non-judgmental, and can help you to gain better understanding of your own thoughts and various situations you are in. This, in turn, can help you identify other possible explanations and viewpoints that counteract those pesky distortions! Hopefully, you will then feel better (or at least a little less anxious)!
When I’m working with my clients on their cognitive distortions, I also like to introduce the idea of using other coping skills along the way. Life can get so busy and sometimes even cumbersome that we forget to do things to take care of ourselves! Working through the dysfunctional thought record can be a coping skill, but so can other seemingly little things, such as showering every day or exercising. It is SO important to make sure you are engaging in self-care and doing things you enjoy on a daily basis to help battle that anxiety!
I hope you found this blog series to be helpful, even if it only gave you some hope that your anxiety can get better! If you’d like to learn more about this type of therapy or you feel as though you need new ideas for coping skills, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to talk to your own therapist about it. Try to remember there is always help available!