Managing Stress Part II–Cognitive Restructuring

Written by Dr. Gloria Walters

Interpreting events using dysfunctional beliefs or cognitive distortions is not uncommon and is often done without our conscious awareness. However, we can become more aware of these thinking patterns and begin to change them. Cognitive Restructuring (CR) is a set of cognitive behavioral techniques that helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and to challenge and change inaccurate thinking. The goal of CR is not to distort reality so that everything is positive and unrealistically rosy all the time. CR is a toolset that uses evidence and reason to challenge distorted thought patterns and replace them with more functional and accurate ones.

Some examples of cognitive distortions include:

All-or-nothing (polarized) thinking: Looking at things in black-and-white categories and failing to see the continuum
of gray in the middle. For example, if your performance is less than perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Overgeneralizing: Interpreting a single negative event as part of a never-ending negative cycle while ignoring evidence to the contrary. If you use words such as always, never, none, nobody, or everyone, you are more than likely engaged in overgeneralizing.

Labeling: Attaching a self-deprecating label to oneself or others based on limited evidence. For example, answering a question incorrectly and calling yourself an idiot. This is considered an extreme form of overgeneralization

Filtering: Magnifying negative details while filtering out all of the positive aspects of a situation.

Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that our negative feelings absolutely reflect the way things really are. Because I feel it, it must be true.

 Cognitive Restructuring requires us to (A) identify the cognitive distortion, (B) identify the emotions connected to the cognitive distortion, (C) evaluate and challenge the negative thoughts. {Ask yourself the following questions: What is the evidence to support and contradict this thought? Is there an alternative perspective? Can I look at this a different way? What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking this way?}, and (D) Modify or reframe the thought based upon the evidence. Theoretically, CR is not very difficult to comprehend; however, it can be difficult to incorporate into our everyday lives, particularly given the automatic nature of cognitive distortions and the pervasiveness of negative thinking in general. Mastering the concept of CR is definitely attainable but may require additional reading and/or the assistance of a trained cognitive therapist.

     Our ability to manage or cope with stress is directly connected to our cognitive appraisal of the stressful events we experience. Some ineffective coping strategies include social withdrawal; self-deprecation; aggression; procrastination and avoidance; shifting responsibility or blaming others; over-extending oneself; and misusing or abusing drugs, alcohol, and/or food. Conversely, more positive coping strategies include seeking social and emotional support; using positive internal dialogue to encourage one’s self during times of excessive stress; prioritizing our time and setting limits; taking care of or bodies by getting ample rest, eating regular balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, and maintaining a regular aerobic exercise program; and avoiding things that increase stress like caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants.

Other Stress Management  Techniques

Relaxation Exercises

    Deep Breathing

    Visual Imagery

    Progressive Muscle  Relaxation

    Massage Therapy

Regular Physical Exercise

      Gloria Walters, PhD is a psychologist and cognitive behavioralist in Los Angeles, California

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