Anxiety is fueled and exacerbated by cognitive errors. Cognitive errors are patterns of thinking that are often erroneous or inaccurate, creating distortions in our thinking. When we are in the grip of a cognitive error(s), we often experience a negative impact on our mood and behaviour. Cognitive errors fall into certain categories. Learning to recognize our own cognitive errors increases our ability to ignore the negative thought or actively change it, which can enable us to intentionally change our emotions and our behaviours. The following is a list of the most common cognitive errors/distortions:
- All-or-Nothing Thinking
Putting experiences in one of two categories. Examples: 1) People are all good or all bad. 2) Projects are perfect or failures. 3) I am a sinner, or I am a saint.
Believing that something will always happen because it happened once or twice.
Examples: 1) I will never be able to make friends at a party because I once made an awkward statement to someone, and they didn’t want to be my friend. 2) I will never be able to speak in public because I once had a panic attack before giving a speech.
- Discounting the Positive
Deciding that if a good thing happens, it must not be important or doesn’t count. Examples: 1) I passed the exam this time, but it was a fluke. 2) I didn’t have a panic attack today, but it’s only because I was too busy to be worried.
- Jumping to Conclusions
Deciding how to respond to a situation without having all the information
Examples: 1) The person I am interested in never called me back because they think I’m stupid. 2) That person cut me off in traffic because he/she is a jerk!
- Mind Reading
Believing that you know how someone else is feeling or what they are thinking without any evidence.
Examples: 1) I know she hates my guts. 2) That person thinks I’m a loser.
Believing that you can predict a future outcome while ignoring other alternatives. Examples: 1) I’m going to fail this test. 2) I’m going to have a panic attack if I go out in public.
- Magnifying (Catastrophizing) or Minimizing
Distorting the importance of positive and negative events.
Examples: 1) I said the wrong thing so I will never have a boyfriend/girlfriend. 2) My nose is so big that no one will ever love me. 3) It doesn’t matter if I’m smart because I will never be attractive, athletic, popular, rich, etc. 4) Making a mountain out of a molehill.
- Emotional Reasoning
Believing something to be true because it feels true.
Examples: 1) I am a failure because I feel like a failure. 2) I am worthless because I feel worthless.
- “Should-y” Thinking
Telling yourself you should, should not, or should have done something when it is more accurate to say that you would have preferred or wished you had or had not done something. Examples: 1) I should be perfect. 2) I should never make mistakes. 3) I should not be anxious. 4) I should have done something to help.
- Labelling (or Mis-Labeling)
Using a label to describe a behaviour or error
Examples: 1) He’s a bad person (instead of “He made a mistake when he lied.”) 2. I’m stupid (instead of “I didn’t study for my test, and I failed it.”)
Taking the blame for some negative event even though you were not responsible, you could not have known to do differently, there were extenuating circumstances, or other people were involved.
Examples: 1) It’s my fault he hits me. 2) My mother is unhappy because of me.