Challenge your thinking for anxiety and depression relief- Part 2


This week we will cover the other eight cognitive distortions. Did you observe your thinking last week and identify any of the distortions that we covered? Did you find a link between feeling depressed or anxious and one or more of these errors in thinking?

Alright then, let’s move on to cover the other common cognitive distortions. They are:

8. Fallacy of fairness
We think that things should go according to our notion of what is fair and expect people and situations to measure up to this. For example, we think that if a customer service representative gives a discount to our friend that we should also get the same discount.
More realistic thought: Sometimes people are lucky to call at just right the time when a discount is applied. Maybe I’ll be lucky next time.

9. Blaming
This is the flip side of personalization. We hold other people responsible for our problems. This leads us to not take responsibility for our choices. We might think, my husband’s negative remark is going to screw up my whole day.
More realistic thought: I did not like my husband’s remark but I am going to move on and make the most of this day anyway.

10. Shoulds
This is one of the most common errors. We assume that everyone and everything adheres to our standards and requirements. Whenever you hear yourself using the word should you can be sure you are making this error. For example, we think others should respond to our emails within 24 hours.
More realistic thought: I would like a prompt response to my email but sometimes people are too busy to respond as quickly as I would like.

11. Emotional reasoning
We assume that if we feel something it must be true, confusing our feelings with reality. We might think we are worthless if we feel worthless.
More realistic thought: I am having a hard time today and feel worthless but I know that there are other days when I know that I have good qualities and have something to contribute.

12. Fallacy of change
We think that others must change to suit our needs and happiness. We abdicate responsibility for our happiness and instead make our happiness dependent on other people changing. An example would be expecting your whole family to follow the dietary requirements that you are following due to a medical condition that only you alone have.
More realistic thought: Just because I am on a special diet doesn’t mean that my family has to follow it too.

13. Global labeling
We take an accidental or circumstantial attribute and make the assumption that this is indicative of our character. This is a more severe form of overgeneralization. For example, we might think we are a loser or failure because we made a mistake.
More realistic thought: Everyone makes mistakes. This doesn’t mean I won’t succeed.

14. Always being right
We go to great lengths to prove that we are right disregarding the feelings of others. For example, we think that we have to continue to argue a point when the other person is clearly becoming more angry and defensive.
More realistic thought: I think I may be right but I don’t have to keep arguing with my friend when it seems to be upsetting him.

15. Heaven’s reward fallacy
We think that all our hard work, self-sacrifice and self-denial will pay off and we will be rewarded as though someone is keeping score. For example, we think that if we volunteered to clean up at an event we will get a special mention in the organization’s newletter.
More realistic thought: I volunteered at the event because I believe in what the organization is doing in our community. It would be a nice surprise to be recognized for my efforts but I don’t expect it.

Working with errors in your thinking can help you to better cope day-to-day with feelings of depression and anxiety. As you practice identifying and replacing faulty thinking with more realistic thinking your symptoms will lessen and you will have more acceptance of the things that life hands you. Also you will assume more responsibility for your choices and how you react to the results of those choices. There is a brief description of how this model works here.

If you want to delve further into this I highly recommend Dr. David Burns’ books. They are available through his website:

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help.If you are in need of immediate help please contact your local psychiatric emergency services.

Challenge your thinking for anxiety and depression relief- Part 1


When we are young we learn to think about the world from our family, school, friends and our community. The messages we get contribute greatly to how we think as adults. Unfortunately, many of the things that adults say to children can be negative and can contribute to what we call cognitive distortions which are, essentially, errors in thinking.

These errors in thinking often underlie our bad moods and anxieties. It is most helpful at these times to focus on our thinking. We can begin to feel better if we follow these three steps:

1.) Recognize the thought we are having
2.) Identify the distortion
3.) Replace the negative thought with another more positive and realistic thought

I will cover the first seven most common cognitive distortions in Part 1. They are:

1. Filtering
We take one negative aspect of a situation and focus on that rather than on the other more positive aspects. For instance, you may put an emphasis on the one person in the room who did not acknowledge you at a party when the other 25 people greeted you warmly.
More realistic thought: Josh hasn’t said hi to me yet but most of the people here have said hi or smiled at me tonight.

2. Polarized thinking
This is also called “black and white thinking”. If something is not perfect or done perfectly it is not worth anything. There are no grey areas. For example, if you have the second highest test scores you are a failure because you did not have the top score.
More realistic thought: My test score is in the top 10 of all the scores in class.

3. Overgeneralization
A single negative event or situation leads to a generalization that this event or situation will always be negative. An example would be assuming that all therapy sessions will lead to anxiety based upon one session.
More realistic thought: I felt anxious today in therapy but it was my first time so that is to be expected.

4. Jumping to conclusions
There are two subtypes.
Mind reading: We think we are able to know what people are feeling towards us without consulting them. We might say to ourselves, John just doesn’t like me.
More realistic thought: John doesn’t seem that interested in me but I really don’t know if that is the case; he could be reacting to something else that’s going on.
Fortune telling: We assume that a situation will turn out negatively. Using the party example, we walk into the party assuming that things are going to go badly and we won’t have a good time.
More realistic thought: I don’t know if I will have a good time at the party but I’ll go anyway and see how it goes.

5. Catastrophizing
We imagine the worst possible thing that could happen will happen. For example, if we get a grade of C on a test we go on to assume that we will fail the course.
More realistic thought: I got a C on the test but I have the rest of the semester to improve my grade.

6. Personalization
We feel directly responsible for an event that isn’t under our control. This error in thinking can be the cause of much guilt and shame. For example, we think that it is our fault that our partner drinks.
More realistic thought: It is my partner’s choice to drink. I can only control my own behavior.

7. Control fallacies
We feel externally controlled in which case we feel we are the victim of fate. For example, we think we cannot have a successful business on the internet because too many others have a successful business. Or there is the fallacy of internal control by which we feel responsible for the negative or positive feelings of others. We think that if people we are with are unhappy it is our fault.
More realistic thoughts: I can have a successful business on the internet if I put enough hard work and effort into it.
Just because Jackie seems unhappy today, I am not responsible for her unhappiness.

Next week we will explore the other cognitive distortions. During this week see if you can become more conscious of your thoughts and how they are linked to times when you are feeling anxious or depressed.

There is more about how these errors in thinking are related to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) here.

If you want to delve further into this I highly recommend Dr. David Burns’ books. They are available through his website:
Beck, Aaron T. (1972). Depression; Causes and Treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Burns, David D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook: Using the New Mood Therapy in Everyday Life. New York: W.
Grohol, John. “15 Common Cognitive Distortions”. PsychCentral. Retrieved 30 June 2014.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help.If you are in need of immediate help please contact your local psychiatric emergency services.