Reframing Negative Thoughts

What Are Cognitive Distortions And How Can I Reframe Negative Thoughts?

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By Lauren Hansen, LCMHC

The last month has been hard. Really hard. My life, as I have known it, has been flipped upside down. My children no longer go to school, my husband no longer goes to work, I am trying to figure out online learning platforms, we are all inside of our home 24 hours a day; I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker. If I allowed my emotions to rule, I would be a complete wreck.

When I step back and take a deep breath, I can recognize how grateful I am — even when the future seems uncertain. Not everything needs to be sunshine and rainbows; however, if I allow myself to stay in that dark place (where I grieve what things used to be, feel overwhelmed, angry and upset), then I remain stuck. Now don’t get me wrong, I need to acknowledge and feel those feelings, but if I allow them to rule my reality, then I am heading in a direction I do not want to go.

BE AWARE OF COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

During this pandemic, I have noticed myself needing a reminder to reframe my negative thoughts and recognize when I have a cognitive distortion.

What are cognitive distortions? Cognitive distortions happen when we perceive the world, or things that happen to us or around us, in a way that does not reflect reality. I describe it to my clients as a pair of sunglasses that we use to view the world around us. If we look at the world, and our interactions with others through a dark or colored lens, then things appear bleak or tainted.  We can allow those cognitive distortions to re-affirm a negative belief about ourselves, or we can recognize the distortion and reframe that negative thought or idea.

Examples of cognitive distortions:

  • All or Nothing Thinking: Viewing circumstances on one extreme or another rather than a continuum, seeing things as black or white.
  • Personalization: Thinking that the negative views or behaviors of others have something to do with you.
  • Mind Reading: Believing you know what others are thinking or feeling.
  • Magnification/Minimization: Focusing on the negatives of a situation or ignoring the positives of a situation.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Viewing the circumstance solely from your emotional standpoint. If I feel this way, this must be true.
  • Should/Must Statements: People or things “should” or “must” be this way.
  • Catastrophizing: Because a person or situation did not go as expected, all things are lost, and only adverse outcomes will follow.

REFRAMING COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

So what do we do once we recognize we are experiencing a cognitive distortion? I believe the first thing we need to do is stop and allow ourselves to remove those lenses. Give ourselves a moment to slow down, breathe, and evaluate whether or not we perceive the world around us through one of those cognitive distortions. If we are, allow ourselves to reframe that thought — for example:

“This pandemic is going to last forever, and I will never again be able to spend time with my friends and get outside of my house.”

Type of cognitive distortions: catastrophizing, emotional reasoning, all or nothing thinking and magnification/minimization

REFRAME: “This is really hard. My life has significantly changed, and sometimes I feel stuck. This pandemic will not last forever. It is okay to recognize how much this pandemic has affected my life and those around me.”

It is especially important not to get into a shame cycle when we recognize we are experiencing a cognitive distortion. It is neither good nor bad; it just is. If you allow yourself to feel bad or guilty because of cognitive distortion, we stay stuck in that negative place. Allow yourself to notice what is and reframe accordingly.

My hope for us all in the coming months is to recognize those negative beliefs or cognitive distortions and reframe them with a newfound awareness and acceptance. This pandemic experience is new for all of us. If we can allow ourselves to be gentle with ourselves and those around us, I believe we will be better for it and better because of it.

If you recognize that you or someone you know is struggling, please feel free to reach out. There is a wealth of mental health resources, support groups, and individual therapists in our area. Several are providing telehealth services that are being covered by most insurance companies. You are not alone. We are not alone. We are in this together — as a community. We will be stronger and better on the other side of this. Please take care of yourself and those around you. Show them, and yourself, love, grace, compassion, and understanding.

Lauren Hansen, LCMHC, is a counselor at Purple Sky Counseling in Heber and The Christian Center Of Park City. She specializes in parenting, anxiety, depression, emotion regulation, family counseling, parent coaching, grief/loss, boundaries, relationship, problems, trauma (EMDR trained), mindfulness, self-esteem/self-worth, premarital and marital counseling using the prepare/enrich materials.