Cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, and how to manage and overcome them are a key focus of my coaching. Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce unhelpful thinking or emotions, which heightens stress, thwarts problem solving and reduces task performance. By learning to recognise this negative thinking and start refuting it, you will slowly diminish it over time and it will be replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.
The cognitive distortion you’re probably most familiar with is imposter syndrome, something most of us will have experienced at some point in our lives. But I thought with things as they currently are, I’d instead focus on the issue of catastrophizing and ‘shoulds’ in this post.
Catastrophizing probably speaks for itself, and I appreciate that at the moment, with anxiety and uncertainty running high it can be hard to avoid spiralling out to the most extreme scenarios when posing endless ‘what if’ questions of the situation. However, if you have a constant narrative of disaster and the absolute worst outcome running through your head, your stress levels are going to remain persistently elevated and this will have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing.
Instead, try to address each day as it comes, equip yourself with information and data from trusted sources and assess your current situation based on the facts available rather than your own speculation and imagination. If you are finding yourself prone to catastrophizing at the moment, my biggest suggestion is to rigorously limit your access to social media and constant news feeds – have set times of the day and fixed periods where you allow yourself to go on to these sites rather than overwhelming yourself with a steady stream of input. Remaining grounded in the reality of your present rather than projecting to an unknown future will help reduce your stress levels.
Applying ‘should’ statements to your life is another of these key thinking errors. In this unprecedented new reality we find ourselves in at the moment, they can become particularly unhelpful. ‘I should sort through my entire house.’ ‘I should write a book.’ ‘I should be replicating the school experience for my kids.’
Being kind to ourselves is the most important aim at the moment and applying ‘should’ statements like these will only lead to self-imposed feelings of emotional guilt. This is another example where I would suggest limiting your social media activity. Yes, it can be a wonderful resource for connectivity in these potentially isolating times, but the danger of absorbing the snapshot of ‘reality’ that other people are posting online and finding our own setup lacking is more real than ever.
Being kind to yourself and trying to assess your situation with as much self-compassion and context as possible will help you to move away from these unhelpful cognitive distortions and avoid unnecessarily raising your stress levels at this time. Try applying the following three questions when you next notice yourself experiencing unhelpful thoughts – What is the evidence? Is this rational? Is it helpful? In this way you will start to challenge your mindset and develop more positive thinking skills (which I’ll talk more about in a separate post).
If you’d like to learn more about thinking errors and how to combat them, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07837993241.