How to Cope with Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions, like all-or-nothing thinking or catastrophizing, are tricks our minds play on us. Learn how to handle them to get yourself out of negative thinking traps.

In the previous post, we talked about two of the most common cognitive distortions - all-or-nothing thinking or catastrophizing and how to spot them. Taking it a step further, we're going to look at how to cope with these distortions.

All-or-nothing Thinking and complexity

One way to cope with the all-or-nothing thoughts that we encounter is to try and open up to complexity.

When we separate out "right" from "wrong" and "good" from "bad", we see the world in black and white - as opposed to the diverse rainbow it actually is. This may initially make understanding of the world simpler.

But, simplifying reality into easy, binary terms usually robs us of the complexity that makes life rich and nuanced. In other words, it can hold us back from experiencing the richness of our lives and relationships.

As a way to deal with this kind of thinking you can try to find balance and nuances. When noticing all-or-nothing thoughts you can curiously look for other options. E.g. you can list as many options as you can imagine if your thoughts are locked into two possible outcomes.

Or you can open up to nuances and other ways to look at a situation by saying to yourself:

  • "Both of us can be partially right"

  • "There are multiple ways to solve this problem" or

  • "I have both good and not so good qualities"

All-or-nothing Thinking and Cognitive Defusion

When you detect all-or-nothing thinking you can say to yourself: "I observe that I'm having a thought saying X".

This is called cognitive defusion which is a method to gain distance from yourself and the thought. Simply observing your thoughts in this way can help you gain clarity about what's making you feel upset and help you see that the thought is making you focus on the negative side of things.

Catastrophizing and Acceptance

A great way to cope with catastrophizing is to practice and develop a fundamental life skill: Acceptance. Uncertainties are a natural part of a wholehearted life and we can foster acceptance of uncertainty by facing challenges bravely when they arise.

You can try to tolerate uncertainties by allowing the future to be the future. Instead of focusing on how to prevent unpleasant surprises and control future outcomes, try to bring awareness back to the present moment.

When you experience unhelpful catastrophizing, then try to create distance to the overwhelming or uncomfortable feelings caused by this thinking error by simply noticing it: "I'm catastrophizing right now". You can also try to tackle your need for certainty by saying to yourself: "It's okay. This is just a scenario and I do not need to fix or do anything".

Catastrophizing and Questions

Another way to cope with unhelpful catastrophizing is to curiously question the logic behind the thought. We automatically tend to jump from problem to disaster and a lot of us may not even realize that the scenarios causing us distress are exaggerated or even unrealistic.

When you notice catastrophizing thoughts, you can choose to ask yourself: "Is this perceived disaster a probable outcome?” or, "Would it really be a catastrophe if X happened?". This is a way to challenge your thinking and come up with more helpful ways of thinking.

Check out other articles I've written:

How to Spot Cognitive Distortions

How to Spot Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions, like all-or-nothing thinking or catastrophizing, are tricks our minds play on us. Learn how to spot them so you can get yourself out of negative thinking traps.

5 tips for helping a friend going through a hard time

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Reaching out to a friend going through a hard time can be challenging. Your mental health companion Nuna has 5 tips for you, if you're wondering how to support a friend in the time of hardship.

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