Self-help Lesson #20 Learn To Recognize Thought Distortions Contributing To Anxiety

Anxious Cognitive Distortions

How many of these do you do? Learn to recognize the different thought distortions to help reduce anxiety. 

  1. Fortune Telling

Example:  “Something bad is going to happen”  “I know I will, I’ll fail” “I’ll lose my job”

Fortune telling is predicting a frightening outcome.  If you are so successful at predicting let’s go to Las Vegas.

  1. Catastrophizing

Example:  “The sky is falling” “This is terrible, horrible, a catastrophe.” “If I go to the mall I will panic and probably pass out.”  “This panic attack will lead to a heart attack or stroke”.

Chicken Little catastrophizing is visualizing or fearing the worst outcome.  The worst outcome rarely happens.  Negative expectations extinguish the joy.

  1. Perfectionism

Example:  “I need to perform perfectly for them to like or accept me”  “I have to get this right so I won’t look bad”.

No one performs perfectly all the time.  Trying to be perfect actually drives the anxiety.

  1. Mind Reading

Example:  “I can tell he doesn’t like me”.  “They can tell I’m anxious and falling apart”.  “I’m looking so anxious people will think I’m stupid”.

If you can really read minds let’s start a psychic hotline or put you on a game show.

  1. Magnification (exaggeration)

Example:  “I will be like this the rest of my life.”  “There is no help for me, I will never get better.”  “This panic attack will cause me to be totally dysfunctional.  I will lose everything.”  “I will be homeless”.

Exaggerating reality in your thinking magnifies anxiety in your body.  Magnification is looking at your life on the giant movie screen instead of the small 13” TV screen.

  1. Emotional Reasoning

Example:  “I feel like I am going to faint.”  “I feel like I’m having a heart attack”.  “I feel like this event will turn out poorly”.

If I feel it, it must be tune.  Wait!  Feelings are not facts.  Don’t use feelings as evidence!

  1. All or Nothing thinking

Example:  “They will hate me or love me”.  “I will be a great success or a miserable failure.”  “No one will ever like me”.  “Everyone is better than me”.

Could there be some gray between the extremes?  Practice moderate thinking.

  1. What if – the most famous phrase of the anxious person.

Example:  “What if I faint”  “What if I can’t talk”  “What if I become homeless”  “What if I get hurt”  “What if I’m really sick”

What if this happens, what if that happens can generate much worry and anxiety.  “What if” is a great question if you are an attorney.  If you are not an attorney drop the phrase.  Most of the things we “what if” about never actually happen.


-notes from Steven Marcus, PhD.

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