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This process is recommended to help you restructure your thoughts and gain some healthy perspectives when you are feeling anxious. It is best to do this in the moment when you first notice any symptoms, but you can also use this practice after the situation has already passed.

  1. What triggered me?
  2. How did I respond?
    What did I feel?
    What did I do?
  3. What was the automatic thought?
    What did you say to yourself? The automatic thought can be the “caption” that describes your experience. For example, if you were looking at a cartoon of yourself, what would be written in the “bubble” over your head?
  4. What was the cognitive distortion that was connected to the thought? (See List Below)
  5. What was the underlying belief?
    This is the automatic thought taken to the next level or even to the extreme. See if you can exaggerate or expound on the automatic thought. Bring it to a general, overarching conclusion about the way life is for you.
  6. Compassion.
    Pause. Take a moment to give compassion to the part of you that has been suffering as a result of this belief. If you have trouble with this, think about how you would feel if you were gently addressing a small child who was hurt, someone you love, or your best friend. Then turn that kindness towards yourself.
  7. How can I dispute the belief?
    Think about the wise part of you. This is the objective, reasoning, insightful part that can offer some arguments against the negative belief. From this perspective, ask yourself:
    Is this really true?
    What are some other explanations?
    Are there other interpretations that are as true or truer?
    How might another person look at this?
    What are some healthier or more positive ways of looking at this situation?

Cognitive Distortions

  • Catastrophizing: You tell yourself that the very worst is happening or is going to happen.
  • Overestimating Probabilities/ Underestimating Coping Response: You overestimate difficulty or danger while underestimating your ability to cope with the situation.
  • All-or-Nothing (Black-and-White) Thinking: You view a situation in extremes rather than on a continuum.
  • Over-generalizing: You generalize from one situation to the next, believing that future experiences will be similar or identical to past experiences.
  • Self-Confirmatory Bias: You find “evidence” that helps you justify or maintain your belief system.
  • Emotional Reasoning: You think something must be true simply because it “feels” true.
  • Intensified Focusing:
  • Overvaluing Thoughts: You ascribe credibility and meaning to senseless or random thoughts. (This often goes with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.)
  • Overvaluing Sensations: You misinterpret bodily sensations as being exaggerated, life threatening or dangerous. (This often goes with Panic Disorder.)
  • Worrying as Superstitious Thinking: Continuing to worry helps you feel that you will not be caught off-guard. It also feels like constant worrying could ward off the dreaded situation. (This often goes with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.)
  • Foreclosure: You focus on the possible ways that a situation might end, because it feels too hard to be in a state of uncertainty. (This often goes with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.)
  • Mind Reading: You guess what others are thinking, and refrain from checking to see whether your impressions are correct. (This is often goes with Social Anxiety Disorder.)
  • Should Statements: You think in terms of how you, others, or the world “should” be. This type of thinking usually accompanies perfectionism and/or a rigid style of thinking. (This often goes with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or anger.)
  • Beck’s Negative Triad: You have a negative view of the self; negative view of the world; and negative view of the future. (This often goes with depression.)

Note to reader: This list is a compilation of some commonly used terms that have been originated, modified and/or re-stated by many cognitive-behavioral therapists. Dr. Stone therefore does not claim authorship to these terms, except: “foreclosure.”

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Heather Stone PhD

Heather Stone, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, is located in Sacramento County, California. As an anxiety disorders specialist and subject matter expert, Dr. Stone provides Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, counseling, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for the treatment of anxiety, worry, stress, panic, agoraphobia, postpartum depression and anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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