How Our Thoughts Create Depression & Anxiety & How to Fix It

Awareness is the first step towards changing any behavior or pattern of thinking. Last week we discussed a method designed to heighten your awareness of negative self-talk by writing it down. Now that you have recorded some of the thinking errors that are undermining your mood, confidence and self-esteem, it is time to create rational responses to those damaging thoughts.

What is a rational response? It is a way to respond to a cognitive distortion that dissipates its power. For example, suppose you are running late to work and your cognitive distortions go something like this:

“I’m never on time. People at work will think I’m useless.”

There are several cognitive distortions at play here. The first statement is an overgeneralization. The second includes mind-reading and fortune telling with a dash of all-or nothing thinking and overgeneralization thrown in for good measure.

Rational responses might be:

• I am not always late. There have been many times I have made it to work right on time.
• Some people I work with might be frustrated if I’m late today, but it is not the end of the world. Everyone is late sometimes.

A rational response must be believable. It won’t help us to replace a negative cognitive distortion with a grandiose or overly optimistic one.

Rational responses only improve mood if we use them. It can help to write out rational responses to your most frequent distortions. In his seminal book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David Burns suggests using a triple column method to track thoughts, identify types of distortions and create rational responses.

Continue to track your negative self-talk. At the end of the day, read through what you have written down. Identify the types of distortions and write out rational responses to each one. Defend yourself.

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