Anxiety & Mood

Using Nuanced Thinking to Challenge Destructive & Anxiety Provoking Thoughts

There are many anxiety inducing patterns often called cognitive distortions or thought traps. These are ways of thinking that seem true but are in fact not reasonable, realistic or relevant to the situation.

Noticing when we are using thought traps and countering them is an important part of traditional CBT-treatment that also often reduce symptoms of anxiety.

A cognitive distortion is active in our minds when we experience an upsetting event and we think about it in those ways.
Last weeks’ posts have been about how to challenge cognitive distortions through 3 steps:

Step 1: Identify the problem and its magnitude

Step 2: Examine the evidence of the problem creating thoughts

Step 3: Create alternative rational and more self-supportive thoughts

Today’s post is about how to practice nuanced thinking to evaluate the facts behind unhelpful thoughts.

Learning to avoid black-and-white, polarized thinking can be challenging, because the mind has a tendency to take shortcuts in order to simplify the processing of stimuli with the aim to make quick decisions and rapidly choose a response. This is sometimes good, but often creates irrational logic or pattern.

Using more nuanced thinking, in shades of grey, about a problem, plan or goal, instead of an either-or polarity, potentially using a scale of 0 to 100 to evaluate the experience, creates in the long run better decisions, relationships and higher wellbeing.

One common example is a person having the goal of starting a healthier life and then ‘unexpectedly’ slipping by skipping an exercise or eating something ‘forbidden’. To use the nuanced thinking is to have a longer time perspective and a plan for set-backs, instead of letting the next opportunity to make healthier choices slip again and postponing the goal just for this incident:

‘I cannot do it’

‘It is too hard’

since this incident is accounting for a low percentage of the total impact when summarizing all possible choices.

More about this next week.


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