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Stress Management for Health Course

Short Cognitive Distortions

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Stressful Thinking Styles


We dont see the world as it is, we see it as we are.(Ref unknown)


As we have already discussed, our thoughts play a powerful and influential role in our perception of the stress we are under and they can also exacerbate any stress that we are under.  Some of these stress-inducing thoughts are called Cognitive (Thinking) Distortions.  It used to be believed that there were only a few cognitive distortions, but we now know that there are far more than this.  You will find below some of the most common of these thinking errors. 


        There is also an evolutionary aspect that under stress it is common for us to start imagining the worse, become highly attentive to threats, and distorted in our thinking (Gilbert 1998B) such styles of thinking actually may have had adaptive functions.  However it can also become highly maladaptive. (Gilbert P. (2000) Counselling for Depression 2nd Ed. Sage Books)

        Each of us views the world through our own unique lens, the characteristics and scope of that lens governs what we are able to see and know about the world.  Paradigms are not born; they are made.  They are handed down first and foremost by the culture in which we live, globally and locally.  They represent the collective attitudes and beliefs.  What you believe about how the world works is very different from what your great grandfather believed.  And it is different from what someone living in the rain forests of Borneo believes.  A kid who grows up in a deeply religious churchgoing family interprets experiences differently than do children of the atheists next door. 


The way you see the world around you is profoundly influenced by what your family believes and how it acts.  If your parents were always worried about what might befall them or you, you may have come to believe that the world is unsafe or unpredictable; you may live in a state of constant fear and anxiety.  If family conflicts were resolved with screaming and yelling, its reasonable to believe that anger is the only tactic that works.  You may respond by spending your life avoiding intimate relationships entirely.  If, on the other hand, your childhood was smooth and serene, you are likely to trust that the world is an OK place.


Of course, not everyone responds in the same way to education, neighbourhood, or the class bully.  Your personal paradigm reflects not only your culture, family, and life experiences but the ways that you, because of your unique temperament, have interpreted and responded to your environment.  (Lambrou P, Pratt G. (2000) Instant Emotional Healing, Rider Books)

        I have had many troubles in my life and most of them never happened (Winston Churchill)

        The individual is not the cause of their stressful thinking its partly the brains response to stress.  The brain wants you to react in a reflex, instant way not working out different scenarios or you would be dead.

        We are not impotent against our thoughts.  Thinking is a habit and with time, patience and practice we can change habits including our thinking style.

        Just recognising these thinking errors is extremely useful, because once you recognise something you can change it.

        These distortions can exacerbate any challenge we are under.  Look at this list and see what thinking errors may apply to you.


Being Right


In Being Right we constantly need to prove we are always right.  The way we think and behave is the only correct way.  We judge ourselves and others by these criteria and when we or other people dont measure up to this standard we/they are wrong.  We dont listen to other peoples views or opinions because we are always right, so by definition people who dont hold our views and opinions are wrong.


Can you think of any examples of Being Right you may have made?  List them below:










Black and White Thinking (All or Nothing Thinking, Polarised Thinking)


In black and white thinking we tend to see things as being all wrong or all right, for example, if we make one mistake we see ourselves as having failed.  We see things or people as being all good or all bad.  We are a total success or we are a total failure.  We are either completely 100% right or we are 100% wrong.  The reality is we all make mistakes.  Life is a learning process and nobody is perfect.


Can you think of any examples of Black and White Thinking you may have made?  List them below:













In catastrophising we tend to automatically think the worst is going to happen and it will be awful and we wont be able to cope.  My relationship broke up, so nobody will want a relationship with me.  If we have a headache we may think we have a serious illness.


Can you think of any examples of Catastrophising you may have made? List below:












In Change falacies we believe that other people will change to meet our needs if we pressure them enough.


Can you think of any examples of Change Fallacy you may have made?  List them below:















In control fallacies what happens to us can be seen as being totally out of our control and there is nothing we can do to influence it, it is our fate, or we can go to the other extreme and blame ourselves for everything and anything.


Can you think of any examples of Control Fallacies you may have made?  List them below:













Discounting the Positive


In discounting the positive we tend to trivialise the positive things about ourselves and others saying that they do not count.


Can you think of any examples of Discounting the Positive you may have made?  List them below:












Emotional Reasoning


In emotional reasoning we tend to let our feelings guide our interpretation of reality.  We may be so stressed that we have difficulty with our emotions and therefore conclude that our marriage is not working, when in fact its our blunted emotions that are causing the problem.  We reason from how we feel, I feel an idiot, so I must really be one.  We mistakenly think that everything we feel must be true.


Can you think of any examples of Emotional Reasoning you may have made?  List them below:













In fallacy of fairness we have our own idea of fairness but another person may have a different view of fairness.  The reality is that life can be unfair.


Can you think of any examples of Fallacy of Fairness you may have made?  List them below:













In mental filter we tend to filter out all the good things that life has and overly focus on negative parts of life.  We pick on a single negative detail and dwell on it.  We overly dwell on the negative and totally ignore the positives.  We make predictions about what will happen to us in the future based on little information.  For example, someone says we have done well, but we discount this because we say it was only said to be nice, it wasnt really meant; or 100 good reviews and one bad review and we focus on the single, bad review.  We look at one part of the situation and come to a conclusion, instead of seeing the bigger picture.


Can you think of any examples of Mental Filter you may have made?  List them below:










Heavens Reward


In heavens reward we are always trying to do the best for others, we dont look after ourselves, ignoring our own needs as if we will get our reward in heaven.  If we look after our own needs we regard it as selfish as if we are not important.


Can you think of any examples of Heavens Reward you may have made?  List them below:








Jumping to Conclusions


In jumping to conclusions we tend to make a negative interpretation even though we dont have all the facts to support our view.  We think we know what people are thinking about us.


a.       Mind Reading We think we know what other people are thinking about us, for example, that they think we are stupid, incompetent, and may disapprove of us; we dont bother to check this out.  If a friend walks by on the other side of the street we mind read and think we may have offended them and they are ignoring us because of this.


b.      Fortune Telling We anticipate that things will turn out badly and are convinced that our prediction is an already established fact.


Can you think of any examples of Mind Reading and Fortune Telling you may have made?  List them below:








Labelling and Mislabelling


In labelling and mislabelling we tend to call ourselves and other people by negative names for supposed shortcomings, such as Im an idiot, Shes a moron, Im stupid.  These are not based on the facts, but on only one or two negative incidents.


Can you think of any examples of Labelling or Mislabelling you may have made?  List them below:













Magnifying or Minimising (Binocular Vision)


In magnifying or minimising we tend to blow things out of proportion.  We make mountains out of molehills. We tend to minimise our and others strengths and qualities, and magnify and exaggerate the supposed weaknesses, mistakes and errors of ourselves and others.


Can you think of any examples of Magnifying or Minimising you may have made?  List them below:














In overgeneralization we tend to make conclusions based on single events.  When we experience a negative event such as not getting a job that we applied for, we tend to think we will never get a job ever again.  We make a mistake and we think we can never do things right. Everything I do turns out wrong. 


Can you think of any examples of Overgeneralization you may have made?  List them below:












Personalisation and Blame


In personalisation and blame we tend to blame ourselves solely for situations and events that we were not entirely responsible for.  If something bad happens we assume its our fault.  Or on the other hand we take no personal responsibility, we blame other people and situations.


Can you think of any examples of Personalisation and Blame you may have made?  List them below:











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