List of Cognitive Distortions that Make You Stressed and Depressed
The way you look at things may be making those things feel worse than they really are. Your view of yourself and the world around you can get distorted by negative thought patterns that are so common that they have a name: cognitive distortions.
Learning how to spot cognitive distortions like polarized thinking, overgeneralization, and catastrophizing can lift your mood and help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
What's in This Post
|Cognitive Distortion Definition|
|CBT and Cognitive Distortions|
|Cognitive Distortions: Anxiety and Depression Connection|
|Cognitive Distortions List|
|Cognitive Distortions and Absolutes|
|Challenging Cognitive Distortions|
|Cognitive Distortions Worksheets|
Note: This post should not be taken as therapy. It is always advisable to seek individualized care with a mental health professional.
Cognitive Distortion Definition
Cognitive distortions are habitual ways of viewing yourself and the world that make things look worse than they are.
Cognitive distortions distort reality.
They put a negative spin on things. That negative spin has a negative emotional, psychological, and behavioral impact on the individual who is trapped in the distortion.
CBT and Cognitive Distortions
The founders of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Aaron Beck and David Burns, were the first to talk about cognitive distortions. Correcting these errors in thinking have continued to be important components of CBT.
Beck described cognitive distortions as making people create “a negative bias against themselves.”
Cognitive Distortions: Anxiety and Depression Connection
While cognitive distortions happen for everyone some of the time, people with anxiety and depression tend to get stuck in the distortions. That stuckness manifests as ruminating or dwelling on the negative thoughts. The ruminating creates a consuming whirlwind that will make you more and more panicked, anxious, nervous, worried, depressed, and stressed.
The good news is that you can train your brain to catch, check, and change this faulty thinking.
Common Cognitive Distortions List
Lists of cognitive distortions range in number up to about a dozen, but I tend to focus on 5 cognitive distortions when I'm working with clients to relieve anxiety and reduce depression:
Catastrophizing or Awfulizing: dwelling on an exaggerated worse-than-worst-case scenario
Overgeneralizing: a kernel of truth gets exaggerated to cover more circumstances than are warranted
Magnification and Minimization: blowing up negative stuff and minimizing good stuff
Filtering: a selective filter filters out the positive things that happen and keeps the negative things
Polarized Thinking: black-or-white, all-or-nothing, dichotomous thinking
Cognitive Distortions and Absolutes
It is noteworthy that a common thread with these distorted ways of thinking is a tendency to think in absolutes:
Absolutes are almost always wrong.
Absolutes make things feel worse than they really are.
They will make you feel like you are globally bad, rather than seeing the isolated things you might be bad at. They make you think that things will never be better, rather than allowing you to recognize that while something might be bad now, it may be better in the future.
Challenging Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive distortions can be challenged using the 3 C's: Catch, Check, Change.
Catch. Identify the thought that came before the emotion or was spinning in your head as you ramped up.
Check. Reflect on how rational, accurate, and useful the thought is. Question whether it is based on overreactions and/or cognitive distortions.
Change. Replace the thought with something more accurate and useful.
Cognitive Distortions Worksheets
In my anxiety workbook, Becoming Calm, I explain each of the 5 cognitive distortions above and provide worksheets to help you challenge and overcome any of them that are causing you trouble.
- Ann Silvers