Cognitive Restructuring: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Attitude

Sometimes stress can lead to a chain reaction of thoughts that starts with a small, simple problem and leads to full-blown anxiety and panic over unrealistic fears. We all get ourselves worked up from time to time, but these irrational thoughts can cause undue stress. With cognitive restructuring, you can learn to control those thoughts, and not just stay positive, but be realistic, too.
Cognitive Restructuring: What Is It?
Cognitive restructuring, also called cognitive reframing, is a behavioral technique associated with cognitive therapy.
"Cognitive restructuring involves learning how to think differently, to change fundamental ‘faulty thinking,’ and replace it with more rational, realistic, and perhaps positive thinking,"
says Sally R. Connolly, LCSW, a clinical social worker and therapist.
"Much of the research finds that cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most successful form of therapy for dealing with problems of anxiety or depression," says Connolly. "When people are able to change their thinking, they can approach their daily lives and problems with much more energy and confidence."
That's because stress, anxiety, and irrational thinking have a big impact on daily life, and how you react to certain situations. "We understand that how we think affects how we feel and act,” says Connolly. “Operating out of negative or fearful thinking can lead to depression, anxiety, or avoidance of people or experiences. Cognitive restructuring helps people to learn to think, and therefore, act, differently."
Cognitive Restructuring: How It Works
There are few things more aggravating than being stuck in traffic, especially when you're late — and isn't there always traffic when you're running late? Like most people, you probably get irritated, angry, frustrated, and anxious. You might worry about the possible ramifications at work, getting a late start on your day, or missing an important meeting. From those thoughts comes stress.
You have two options:
  1. Keep letting the stress eat you up until you're in a panic about getting fired from your job, or change your thinking. "Cognitive restructuring involves paying attention to thoughts, recognizing when they are irrational thoughts, challenging them, and learning replacement thoughts and behaviors," says Connolly. "People learn healthy ways to talk to themselves so that they can let go of the self-defeating talk."
  2. Using the traffic scenario as an example, think about what is rational about this situation. Is it worth all this stress? There is nothing you can do to change where you are or how late you’ll be, no matter how much you worry. It's irrational to think about the terrible things that probably won’t happen as a result of traffic. Instead, focus your energy on how to prevent getting stuck in traffic again and avoiding future stress.
Cognitive Restructuring: How to Change Your Thoughts
Begin evaluating your thoughts and fears, and figure out if they are rational or irrational. Ask yourself these questions about your thoughts and fears:
  • What is truly the worst possible outcome of this situation?
  • Will this matter in a year from now?
  • Am I looking at this situation correctly; what proof do I have of my fears?
  • Can I really handle this situation even though I doubt myself?
  • What can I do to change this situation?
  • How can I find the positive in this situation?
Start by writing your thoughts down on paper, and also note the facts that you know. Reevaluate the facts, compare them with your thoughts and fears, and identify what's rational.
It's possible to successfully change your thinking habits on your own, but not everyone can do it.
"Some people are able to learn different ways of thinking through their good observational skills and processing," says Connolly. "For others, it does not come easily and a good therapist can help." Books on cognitive-restructuring techniques are also available and can be helpful, she adds.

Moral of the Story:

In this time of uncertainty, we all need to do our best with changing our thoughts to more productive & positive ones. It is the only way to make rational and intelligent decisions.

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