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Posts tagged ‘illogical thinking’

Anxiety: How to stop catastrophizing – an expert’s guide

SOURCE:  Linda Blair/Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist suggests a three-pronged plan for tackling anxiety and approaching each day logically and positively

Let us start by considering why some people catastrophize – that is, on hearing uncertain news, they imagine the worst possible outcome. After all, it is not uncommon and those who catastrophize seem to do it a lot.

Catastrophizers tend to be fairly anxious people. Whether this characteristic is principally genetic or more the result of learning is unknown. High levels of anxiety are extremely unpleasant, so we look for ways to discharge those unpleasant feelings as quickly as possible. If a catastrophizer is told something inconclusive – for example, if they go to a GP and are asked to have tests – they look for a way to feel in control again immediately. They learn to choose the worst possible outcome because it allows for the greatest sense of relief when they are reassured.

Considering all possibilities is not a bad strategy if you examine them logically. However, unable to bear their distress, catastrophisers rush to external sources to calm themselves down: checking whether anyone else has “come through” the same problem; matching symptoms online to obtain a diagnosis and treatment options; asking a professional to tell them that they will survive. Once they are reassured, they feel better – in psychological jargon, they have “rewarded” this seeking behaviour. The next time they feel uncertain or threatened, they will ratchet up their anxiety with a catastrophic thought, then look outwards for reassurance even faster than before. In this way, catastrophising soon becomes a well-entrenched habit. The greatest problem with seeking others to alleviate anxiety is that it offers only temporary relief. There is always another source to check or another opinion to be had; as a result, catastrophisers feel anxious again increasingly quickly. The only way to break this cycle is to tame anxiety. After this, you can still seek advice. So, if you are a catastrophiser and you would rather not be, how do you go about making changes?

Accept yourself. Anxiety is energy: if you are an anxious person, celebrate! However, why waste that energy feeling uncomfortable and preparing yourself for circumstances that will almost certainly never occur? Look for enjoyable ways to challenge yourself and use your energy more positively: taking regular aerobic exercise; learning something new; taking up a creative passion.

Take control. Establish a regular “worry time”. Start by setting aside half an hour every day. Write down all your concerns in specific terms. For example: “I felt nauseated this morning. Do I have stomach cancer?” Assign a score on a scale of 0 to 100% to estimate how distressed this possibility makes you feel. Next, list all the possible explanations for your concern, then rank each one according to how likely it is to be correct. Make use of external sources if necessary, but stick with reputable websites and professionals. Finally, score your worry for the level of distress it is causing you now. Gradually, you will be able to reduce the amount and frequency of worry time.

Use the “best friend test”. Ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do about each concern, and take that action.

Learn to self-soothe. Whenever you are overwhelmed by anxiety and feel you must seek reassurance, give yourself permission to do so – but not straight away. Establish an interval before you are allowed to act. Even two minutes is enough at first, because you are still exerting self-control. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, or taking some gentle exercise, will help. Gradually, you will find you can wait longer. When you get to the point where you can wait more than 20 minutes, most people find they no longer need to be reassured by others.

This three-pronged approach – using your “worry energy” to carry out new and enjoyable challenges, approaching your tendency to catastrophize logically and systematically, and learning to wait through discomfort – takes time. But if you invest the necessary time, you will start looking forward to each day knowing you can deal with uncertainty in a more positive, balanced way.

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How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts

SOURCE:  Renee Jain, Contributor/The Huffington Post

All kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not innocuous.

“I didn’t get invited to Julie’s party… I’m such a loser.”

“I missed the bus… nothing ever goes my way.”

“My science teacher wants to see me… I must be in trouble.”

These are the thoughts of a high school student named James. You wouldn’t know it from his thoughts, but James is actually pretty popular and gets decent grades.

Unfortunately, in the face of adversity, James makes a common error; he falls into what I like to call “thought holes.” Thought holes, or cognitive distortions, are skewed perceptions of reality. They are negative interpretations of a situation based on poor assumptions. For James, thought holes cause intense emotional distress.

Here’s the thing, all kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not innocuous. Studies show self-defeating thoughts (i.e., “I’m a loser”) can trigger self-defeating emotions (i.e., pain, anxiety, malaise) that, in turn, cause self-defeating actions (i.e., acting out, skipping school). Left unchecked, this tendency can also lead to more severe conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Fortunately, in a few steps, we can teach teens how to fill in their thought holes. It’s time to ditch the idea of positive thinking and introduce the tool of accurate thinking. The lesson begins with an understanding of what causes inaccurate thinking in the first place.

We Create Our Own (Often Distorted) Reality

One person walks down a busy street and notices graffiti on the wall, dirt on the pavement and a couple fighting. Another person walks down the same street and notices a refreshing breeze, an ice cream cart and a smile from a stranger. We each absorb select scenes in our environment through which we interpret a situation. In essence, we create our own reality by that to which we give attention.

Why don’t we just interpret situations based on all of the information? It’s not possible; there are simply too many stimuli to process. In fact, the subconscious mind can absorb 20 million bits of information through the five senses in a mere second. Data is then filtered down so that the conscious mind focuses on only 7 to 40 bits. This is a mental shortcut.

Shortcuts keep us sane by preventing sensory overload. Shortcuts help us judge situations quickly. Shortcuts also, however, leave us vulnerable to errors in perception. Because we perceive reality based on a tiny sliver of information, if that information is unbalanced (e.g., ignores the positive and focuses on the negative), we are left with a skewed perception of reality, or a thought hole.

Eight Common Thought Holes

Not only are we susceptible to errors in thinking, but we also tend to make the same errors over and over again. Seminal work by psychologist Aaron Beck, often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy, and his former student, David Burns, uncovered several common thought holes as seen below.

  • Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions as opposed to definitive facts
  • Mental filtering: paying attention to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
  • Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects in a situation
  • Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects in a situation
  • Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
  • Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
  • Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
  • Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality, or confusing feelings with facts

Going from Distorted Thinking to Accurate Thinking

Once teens understand why they fall into thought holes and that several common ones exist, they are ready to start filling them in by trying a method developed by GoZen! called the 3Cs:

  • Check for common thought holes
  • Collect evidence to paint an accurate picture
  • Challenge the original thoughts

Let’s run through the 3Cs using James as an example. James was recently asked by his science teacher to chat after class. He immediately thought, “I must be in trouble,” and began to feel distressed. Using the 3Cs, James should first check to see if he had fallen into one of the common thought holes. Based on the list above, it seems he jumped to a conclusion.

James’s next step is to collect as much data or evidence as possible to create a more accurate picture of the situation. His evidence may look something like the following statements:

“I usually get good grades in science class.”

“Teachers sometimes ask you to chat after class when something is wrong.”

“I’ve never been in trouble before.”

“The science teacher didn’t seem upset when he asked me to chat.”

With all the evidence at hand, James can now challenge his original thought. The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is for James to have a debate with himself.

On one side is the James who believes he is in big trouble with his science teacher; on the other side is the James who believes that nothing is really wrong. James could use the evidence he collected to duke it out with himself! In the end, this type of self-disputation increases accurate thinking and improves emotional well-being.

Let’s teach our teens that thoughts, even distorted ones, affect their emotional well-being. Let’s teach them to forget positive thinking and try accurate thinking instead. Above all, let’s teach our teens that they have the power to choose their thoughts.

As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher, William James, once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

5 Beliefs People with Adverse Upbringing Have about Themselves

SOUCE:    /PsychCentral

One of the negative effects of being raised in a difficult environment is a warped self-perception that manifests itself in various false beliefs. In this article, we will explore a few of the more popular ones.

1. I’m worthless

Believing that you are worthless is extremely common. Many children grow up into adults with a diminished sense of self-worth. That is the reality: if you treat someone whose mind is still developing as if they are worthless, they will believe that they are worthless.

This is understandable because if you are repeatedly told that you are stupid, incompetent, and useless, or even subtly or explicitly treated as though you are worthless, you receive the same message.

This is especially the case when those treating you this way are the very people that you are dependent on. You will, then, internalize this feeling and it will become your self-perception. Children pick up on these signals from their caregivers and adapt to their reality.

This belief is often accompanied by similar toxic beliefs:

  • I am unlovable.
  • I don’t matter.
  • I can’t do anything right.
  • There’s no point of even trying.
  • I don’t deserve anything.

2. Everything is my fault

Excessive, unjust guilt is another common problem people suffer from. This belief develops if a child is punished for making mistakes, if they are micromanaged, if they are expected to meet unrealistic or unfair standards, and if they are blamed for things that they are not responsible for.

As a response to such treatment, the person learns to believe that whatever “bad” happens it’s their fault—because that’s how they were treated and led to believe. It often leads to feeling severe social anxiety and being in a constant state of alertness. It makes a person’s personal life quite challenging since they constantly concentrate on others and think that everything is somehow related to them.

Similar beliefs:

  • I deserve to be treated this way.
  • It wasn’t that bad.
  • I was a bad child.
  • I am inherently bad or defective.
  • Someone’s always watching me.
  • Everyone hates me.

3. I have to take care of everyone

This is an extension of the previous belief. Here, the person believes that they are responsible for things that they are actually not responsible for. It is very common for such individuals to try to take care of other people’s needs, preferences, and emotions at the expense of their own.

If a child is not allowed to be a child and is forced to take up on a role of a parent—to their own parents, their siblings, or others—then they grow up feeling responsible for others. Such role reversal in a person’s early life predisposes them to neglect their own well-being, dreams, aspirations, and life for other people. The easiest form to recognize is people-pleasing, but it takes other shapes as well.

Similar beliefs:

  • I am responsible for other people’s emotions.
  • If others are suffering it’s my fault.
  • It’s my responsibility to save others.
  • I have to make sure that everyone’s happy.
  • My needs and wants are unimportant.

4. I can’t do anything myself

Many people who grow up in a controlling environment become overly dependent. This is because they were treated as if they are incompetent and weren’t given freedom to pursue their own goals, to make mistakes, and to overcome obstacles. Instead, they developed codependent tendencies and a sense of incompetency.

Here, instead of being an individual, facing life’s challenges and developing competency, the person stays stuck in the role of a helpless, dependent child, where they need someone else to take care of their financial, emotional, and even physical needs. A common, more extreme example would be a battered spouse who is afraid to leave because they think they can’t survive the separation.

Similar beliefs:

  • I’m not good at anything.
  • Everything’s so complicated.
  • I don’t understand anything.
  • I am waiting for my savior.
  • I just want for someone to take care of me.
  • I just want someone who will make me feel safe.

5. I have to do everything myself

This is, in many ways, the opposite of the previous belief. Instead of being passive, the person feels that they have to do everything on their own. As a child, they had to take care of themselves because their caregivers were not very caring or reliable. They were forced to grow up quickly and deal with their struggles alone.

For people like this it is difficult to trust others, ask for help, or be vulnerable. They were routinely hurt by other people’s insensitivity, betrayed by those who were supposed to love them, and let down by people’s incompetency and unreliability. So they learned that you have to do everything yourself.

Similar beliefs:

  • Showing emotion is “unmanly” or weak (i.e., dangerous).
  • I can’t trust anyone.
  • I don’t need anyone.
  • Everyone is just selfish and doesn’t care about anybody else.
  • Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  • You have to carry everything inside.
  • Nobody can understand me.

 

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