Cognitive Distortions Make It Hard to Think Anxiety Away

October 26, 2010 Kate White

Think anxiety away by recognizing cognitive distortions that get in the way of your mental health. Find anxiety relief by reframing these thoughts. Read this.

Is it possible to think anxiety away? I know that navigating the maze of mental health isn't easy. Sometimes I feel like it just doesn't matter how well I've marked the path, I still can't find my way round the blasted thing. Thankfully, the mind tends to (subconsciously) organize around patterns. Even when we're struggling. Seeing the negative patterns, or cognitive distortions, will help you change them and then you can think anxiety away.

Think Anxiety Away by Reframing Cognitive Distortions

This isn't a fast-acting magic trick. But, within reason, you can think anxiety away. You can call it reframing mental patterns, thinking differently or however you want to think about it. But recognizing cognitive distortions helps to recognize and manage anxiety, and mental illness. We all use cognitive distortion to some extent.

But when fearful, stressed or experiencing a traumatic event, our minds and bodies naturally shift more toward extremes. Like a life raft, I'll find myself clinging to cognitive distortions. And it's a problem if I do too much of that, too often. My brain gets used to the distortions, stops recognizing them as distorted, and starts using them to cope with everyday life. Then they can get in the way of goals like anxiety relief, depression self-help or healing PTSD.

Top 10 Cognitive Distortions That Won't Let You Think Anxiety Away

Are any of these cognitive distortions* holding you back? Think anxiety away by recognizing cognitive distortions that get in the way of your mental health. Find anxiety relief. Read this.

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. Over-generalization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. This one is similar to Mind reading (you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don't bother to check it out) and The fortune teller error (you anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact).
  6. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick."
  7. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."
  8. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, "He's a damn louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

Questions For Thought

  • Are there recent situations that you've used these cognitive distortions?
  • Is there anything you'd rather have done differently?
  • If so, why? Or why not?

Once you get why you're using cognitive distortions over a healthier thought pattern, you can start to think anxiety away. (I'll talk a little more about how later.)

See Also

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*From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

APA Reference
White, K. (2010, October 26). Cognitive Distortions Make It Hard to Think Anxiety Away, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Kate White

December, 8 2023 at 5:44 pm

Exactly what I needed to hear

October, 29 2010 at 4:55 am

You've really expanded and clarified all the points on what I call distorted thinking. Thanks for coming up with so many categories.
Unfortunately, most mental health professionals dont want to deal with us. They are either suffering the malady themselves or are uncommitted to "being there" for someone during inconvenient times. And the support groups from like sufferers are not much better because we can also be in an off-mood and not be able to add much assistance.
Oh yeah, the meds. Well, there's a major muddle for you. You can try different ones till doomsday all with different results. Is there a chance for remission? Well I know one person who is in remission. Personally, I dont like to try new meds, Ive had so many negative experiences. Im on some old meds that sort of work. But when I get into the distorted thinking mode, Im unable to function at all. I have to "check out" and yeah, it's usually a movie or a book. Exercise if I use ear pods.
Im looking for group therapy and have appt next week. I think maybe it would help to be in a more diversified group than just anxious types, but I dont know. I know it takes a lot of hard work and my best thoughts are with us.

Sandy R
October, 28 2010 at 1:51 pm

I have a "friend" on another BP forum, and he was in the midst of a session, shall we call it, of anxiety,not an attack, continuing mood. He is trying to be treated, not happy with the meds, and how long it is taking. He associates his anxiety with something approaching mania. VERY uncomfortable in his own skin. He is taking Abilify and Lexapro.
Wanted to know what to do, can anybody help?
I tried telling him about mindfulness, not well-received.
He needs something for anxiety NOW.
This kind of introspection you are describing is by all means helpful. I've been around for awhile, 61, and am familiar with it. Lots of the younger generation are not.
What do you tell someone to do in an active anxiety state? He ended up saying he would stop whining, not post, and went downstairs and lifted weights and punched the heavy bag. Pretty good idea I thought.
He has clammed up now. Wish I could offer him more. Therapist won't see him until he is diagnosed ? and so far they will not give him a BP dx, or any other for that matter.
Pkease advise. They haven't given him a benzo or anything like that for acute episodes. ?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kate White
October, 29 2010 at 1:58 am

Hi Sandy,
Difficult situation your friend is in. You sound very compassionate. Support like that, it's a great start. Even if it doesn't feel like you're "doing" anything, I'd be willing to bet that just by being around, caring, listening. That's a good thing. It isn't a fix for complex problems. But it's a lot better than it could be. When therapists etc. look at how well a person is doing - when they clinically assess that - the person's support network is a pretty big factor.
Now, in terms of practical things you could do to help? Hrm. Well that's going to depend a lot on him, and how willing/able he is to let anybody or any suggestions in just now. With acute anxiety, people will often get into such intense states that they can't take new information in -- they can't assess it, can't cope with it. Everything gets to be too much, no matter what it is or how useful it could be.
I'm guessing that if the therapist is saying they won't see him until after he's diagnosed, then he has been referred to a psychiatrist? It does sound like, if he's getting episodes like that, he needs to get his meds in balance. That can just take a while, and it tends not to be so fun. I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know there.
Distractions, like lifting weights, getting the tension or what have you out, they're fabulous. I'd totally encourage those. If he has any passions, hobbies, favourite foods, television shows, sports -- all those can be drawn into this to help. Throw suggestions out there. See if any of them take. They may not. He may be just that anxious that it's total overload and that's OK too. If he isn't an active danger to himself or others then maybe it's just something he has to go through? Painful as that is.
DBT may be something worth his time to look into. (Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It's useful for approaching those states in a way that the mind can take when it's under the kind of stress you're describing. Again, not immediately effective, of course. And willingness is a factor.)
HALT is another one I like to tell people about if they're really spinning out. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Those are 4 major things that can seriously, and I mean big time, contribute to how well people are coping in the here and now with situations like this. You can go ahead and ask him, check in and hopefully he'd be OK with checking in on himself about those things, every couple of hours or so is great but even once a week is good!
I know they seem incredibly simple but those are the things that, if they go unchecked, then people experience the mood stuff as a lot more present, as a kind of constant pressure with no way to let it out.
He needs options to let it out, as safely and slowly and securely as possible. Mood stuff like that isn't easy, and it isn't always under the person's control. But things like HALT, distractions, getting enough sleep (!), eating OK, doing comforting, familiar things and maybe even getting out of the house - even just to the mailbox, knowing you can call/email a friend, all these things can add up. Can help relieve that pressure.
It's better with a little time, and some extra help from the professionals.
Which I am not a mental health professional, I'm sure you know. So insert mini disclaimer here, and my best hopes/prayers for your friend.

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