Treatments for Anxiety and depression:
Cognitive Therapy (Part 2)

As I explained in treatments for depression (part 1),

The theory behind cognitive therapy is that "thoughts influence moods." When you are depressed you think thoughts that are unrealistic and full of distortions.

You tend to filter the good things that have happened to you and only remember the bad things. You filter your whole view of the situation and end up making it worse than it is.

Applying Cognitive Therapy to Real Life

Here is an example of an ordinary situation in which a distortion in your thinking can make the problem worse than what it really is:

• Suppose your child is having problems at school. You immediately assume that it is your fault and you start to believe that you are a bad parent.

• This belief becomes so strong that it starts to change your mood and behavior.

• As a result, you develop a behavior that confirms that you are a bad parent.

In truth, your kid’s problems at school could have been caused by many different factors but in your distorted thinking you immediately assumed that it was your fault.

You may actually be a great parent but because there are distortions in your thinking, you forget about your merits and accomplishments as a parent and focus only on the negative aspects of the situation. This way of thinking is not realistic and is totally misleading.

Most Common Distortions

Below, you will find a summarized list of some of the most common cognitive distortions that Dr. David Burns puts together in his book "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" . If you want to learn more about cognitive therapy, this book is a must.

1. All or Nothing Thinking: You see things in black and white categories. This way of thinking is not very realistic because things are rarely completely black or completely white.

Example of a Distorted Thought: If you are used to “winning” in chess all the time, and you lose one time, you will feel you are a complete failure…

Example of a More Realistic Approach: We are only human. It is perfectly O.K. to lose one match.

2. Filtering the Positive: When you are depressed you wear a filter in your eyes that removes all the positive aspects in any situation and dwells exclusively in the negative ones. Also, you tend to look for evidence to turn any situation (even a good one) into a terrible, catastrophic event.

D.T.: You have a beautiful voice and are always complemented when you sing, but one day somebody mentions you were a little out of pitch in the last song. You immediately loose all confidence in yourself and dwell only on the critique and forget about all the other compliments…

R.A.: Why is it that we choose to focus on one singular critique when the rest of the world has reassured us that we are talented?

3. Jumping to Conclusions: You make conclusions about everything without having any good evidence. You assume that EVERYTHING is personal or you are the cause of EVERYTHING. You create a whole movie in your mind about what people think about you. You also believe in a list of terrible things that may happen to you without having any proof of that.

D.T.: If you come into a coffee shop and somebody happens to giggle as you enter, you immediately assume that it is about you that this person is laughing. You probably feel terrible and ruin your time at the coffee shop…

R.A.: Keep in mind, not everything in the world is about us! And, if we don’t have any evidence to prove the assumptions we have made about ourselves or others, why do we waste time and energy believing things that aren’t facts???

4. Magnification and Minimization: You magnify your flaws and minimize your strengths. This distortion has to do a lot with low self esteem. When you are depressed you minimize your value. A poor self image can transform a silly mistake into an overwhelming mark of failure.

D.T.: You had an unsuccessful presentation at work and you think that is the end of the world. You feel that your reputation is ruined and nobody is going to respect you anymore. You minimize all your other strengths and magnify an occasional flaw…

R.A.: Having an occasional bad day at work is not a reason to assume that we are a failure!

5. Should Statements: “Should” statements are the most destructive. They lead to thoughts that afterwards create anxiety and depression. They cause you to feel pressured and when you direct them to others they make you feel resentful. "Should" statements are a waste of time. They create shame and guilt and are simply unnecessary!

D.T.: “I should organize my closet”. “I shouldn’t have eaten the last piece of cake”

R.A.: These statements create unnecessary anxiety and/or regrets. Are they making the situation better? Of course not! They are actually making it worse. These statements are a waste of time and energy!

6. Overgeneralization: you conclude that one isolated event that happened once is going to continue happening FOREVER!!

D.T.: You start a romantic relationship with somebody, after a while he/she decides to end the relationship. You assume that that is your luck, and you are destined to break up every romantic relationship you start.

R.A.: One isolated event can not and will not determine the pattern of your life.

7. Labeling: Instead of describing a specific event you distortion it with a label. When someone else is the aim of your labeling, it creates hostility.

D.T.: “I am a loser!” “I am such an idiot!” “He is a moron!”

R.A.: Labeling yourself, other people or circumstances is dangerous and self-defeating. You and everybody else are complex individuals, with complex personalities. It is over simplistic and wrong to try to define yourself or anybody else with a label.

Please keep in mind that I am using these examples to the best of my knowledge but if you want to get a better and more thorough sense of what each distortion is, please refer to Dr. Burn’s book.

Amongst all the treatments for depression, becoming aware of your thinking patterns, is probably the most effective way to defeat depression.

Print out this list and keep it with you at all times. Start monitoring your thoughts. Especially, when you are feeling depressed. Study the type of thoughts you are having, and try to identify the distortion you may be using according to this list.

If you can carry a small notebook, begin to take notes of your predominant thoughts. Try to keep a daily record.

Write them down in columns in the following order:

• First column: The “automatic” thoughts you are having

• Second column: The type or distortion you are identifying

• Third column: A more realistic approach you can take to a specific situation

For example:

1. Automatic Thought: “I am a looser, I never do anything right”.

2. Distortion: “All or nothing”, “Labeling”, “Filtering the positive”.

3. Realistic Thought: “I am not always a loser, I have a great job and finished with honors in college…”

Turn These Exercises into Habits

When discussing the different treatments for anxiety and depression, the best advice is to get in the habit of observing your thoughts.

Also, make sure you check these easy meditation techniques that can help you familiarize yourself with your thinking patterns. They have been successfully practiced for hundreds of years.

When we are able to recognize our thought distortions, we can avoid the turmoil of emotions that originate in our wrong thinking. We can also control our anxiety and depression and begin the process to overcome it.

Dr. Burns book; "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" is a great resource for you to start practicing some of the skills we've discussed here:

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