Identifying thoughts & feelings

Don’t believe everything you think!

  • Is the threat real or perceived or is it fact or opinion? 
  • Are the physical feelings anxiety-related? (fight or flight/adrenaline response)
  • How likely is what you are thinking going to happen?
  • Are you exaggerating or misreading the ‘threat’?  Are you thinking rationally?
  • What would a trusted friend say to me right now?
  • What advice would I give to a friend?
  • Are your feelings making the situation worse than it is?
  • Is there a more helpful way of looking at the situation?

You CAN cope with these feelings. You have got through this before. IT WILL PASS.

DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK!

What’s the bigger picture? 

What is another way of looking at this situation? 

What advice would I give a friend? 

What would a trusted friend say to me right now? 

Is this thought a fact or opinion?

What is a more reasonable explanation? 

How important is this?  How important will it be in 6 months time? 

It will pass.

 

How can you change these distortions? 

The good news is that cognitive distortions can be corrected over time.

Here are some steps you can take if you want to change thought patterns that may not be helpful:

Identify the troublesome thought

When you realize a thought is causing anxiety or dampening your mood, a good first step is to figure out what kind of distorted thinking is taking place.

To better understand how your thoughts affect your emotions and behavior, you may want to consider reading “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by clinical psychologist Dr. David Burns. This book is considered by many to be the definitive work on this subject.

Try reframing the situation

Look for shades of gray, alternative explanations, objective evidence, and positive interpretations to expand your thinking.

You might find it helpful to write down your original thought, followed by three or four alternative interpretations.

Perform a cost-benefit analysis

People usually repeat behaviors that deliver some benefit.

You might find it helpful to analyze how your thought patterns have helped you cope in the past. Do they give you a sense of control in situations where you feel powerless? Do they allow you to avoid taking responsibility or taking necessary risks?

You can also ask yourself what engaging in cognitive distortion costs you. Weighing the pros and cons of your thought patterns could motivate you to change them.

How can you change these distortions?

The good news is that cognitive distortions can be corrected over time.

Here are some steps you can take if you want to change thought patterns that may not be helpful:

Identify the troublesome thought

When you realize a thought is causing anxiety or dampening your mood, a good first step is to figure out what kind of distorted thinking is taking place.

To better understand how your thoughts affect your emotions and behaviour, you may want to consider reading “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by clinical psychologist Dr. David Burns. This book is considered by many to be the definitive work on this subject.

Try reframing the situation

Look for shades of grey, alternative explanations, objective evidence, and positive interpretations to expand your thinking.

You might find it helpful to write down your original thought, followed by three or four alternative interpretations.

Perform a cost-benefit analysis

People usually repeat behaviours that deliver some benefit. You might find it helpful to analyse how your thought patterns have helped you cope in the past. 

Do they give you a sense of control in situations where you feel powerless? 

Do they allow you to avoid taking responsibility or taking necessary risks?

You can also ask yourself what engaging in cognitive distortion costs you. Weighing the pros and cons of your thought patterns could motivate you to change them.

Break the cycle

  • Don’t avoid situations
  • Re-frame the situation
  • Take things slowly and gradually
  • Shift to an external, rather than internal, focus
  • Think of the longer term, bigger picture
  • What has happened before?  What can you change?
  • What helps?

STOPP is CBT in a nutshell.
Learn this ONE KEY SKILL and you can start to take control of our emotions and your life.

How to use STOPP
Practice the first two steps often for a few days – many times every day at any time.
Read through the steps often.
Carry written reminders with you (use the printable resources below).
Practise STOPP by running through all the steps several times a day, every day…when you don’t need it.
Start to use it for little upsets.
Gradually, you will find that you can use it for more distressing situations.  Like any new habit or skill, it will become automatic over time.

CBT is a technique that has been clinically proven to help some people overcome their anxiety. The acronym STOPP represents a simple CBT technique that can be learned in just a few minutes and practiced regularly to improve your anxiety. More details on using STOPP can be found here.

The steps explained:

Stop!

Take a Breath

Observe

Pull back / gain Perspective

Practice what works

Stop!

Say it to yourself, in your head, as soon as you notice your mind and/or your body is reacting to a trigger.

Stop! helps to put in the space between the stimulus (the trigger, whatever we are reacting to) and our response.

The earlier you use STOPP, the easier and more effective it will be.

Take a Breath

Breathing a little deeper and slower will calm down and reduce the physical reaction of emotion/adrenaline.

In through the nose, out through our mouth – the brain’s reset mechanism.

Focusing on our breathing means we are not so focused on the thoughts and feelings of the distress, so that our minds can start to clear and we can think more logically and rationally.

Observe

We can notice the thoughts going through our mind, we can notice what we feel in our body, and we can notice the urge to react in an impulsive way. We can notice the vicious cycle of anxiety, sadness or anger (etc).

Noticing helps us to detach from those thoughts and feelings and therefore reduce their power and control.

Pull back / gain perspective

The thought-challenging part of CBT. Thinking differently.

Don’t believe everything you think! Thoughts are thoughts, not statements of fact.

When we step back emotionally from a situation, and start to see the bigger picture, it reduces those distressing beliefs. We can do this by asking ourselves questions.

Practice what works

This is the behavioural change of CBT. Doing things differently.

Rather than reacting impulsively with unhelpful consequences, we can CHOOSE our more helpful and positive response.

Shift our focus of attention.

Anxiety Resources