In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive restructuring is a technique used to help change the way you think about certain things. CBT therapists use this technique to teach clients new ways of thinking that may be more helpful and less harmful. If you’re having a lot of anxious thoughts or have been engaging in self-defeating behaviors, this technique from CBT can help.
Cognitive restructuring for anxiety helps to identify and change inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts that exacerbate your anxiety symptoms.
Anxious thoughts can be very harmful and can lead to a lot of distress. They often cause us to feel like we’re in danger, even when there is no evidence to support this belief. Cognitive restructuring can help you recognize that these anxious thoughts are often just false alarms and aren’t necessarily helpful.
CBT therapists lead clients through a process of examining the evidence for their beliefs, as well as considering alternative possibilities.
For people with anxiety, cognitive restructuring focuses on addressing cognitive distortions including the tendency to overestimate the likelihood (the probability error) and severity (the catastrophic error) of negative outcomes, as well as the tendency to underestimate the ability to cope or use resources (the resource error).
The Probability Error
This error in thinking is evident when you overestimate the likelihood of negative events in your life. It can lead to feelings that are not helpful or accurate. For example, you may think that something bad is going to happen every time you leave the house resulting in fear and avoidance of going out.
Addressing the probability error involves identifying evidence for and against the distortion and recognizing that just because something bad could happen, it doesn’t mean that it will. In addition, thinking about all of the times things have gone well in the past can help to increase your confidence and reduce anxiety.
The Catastrophic Error
This cognitive distortion is evident when you overestimate how bad something will be if it happens. For example, you may think that if you get anxious in public, everyone will notice and they’ll all be judging you. This distortion can lead to a lot of anxiety and distress.
Counteracting the catastrophic error involves identifying the evidence for and against the thought. It’s also helpful to consider how you’ll cope if something bad does happen. Recognizing that things may not be as bad as you think can help to reduce anxiety.
The Resource Error
This error occurs when you underestimate your ability to cope with a problem or challenge. For example, if you have an important presentation at work and worry about forgetting what to say. This can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress.
Dealing with the resource error involves identifying your strengths and resources, both internal and external. Thinking about all of the times you’ve been successful in the past can help to boost your confidence. Additionally, seeking support from loved ones or professionals can also be helpful.
How CBT Can Help Address These Errors
Cognitive restructuring is one way that CBT therapists help people address these cognitive distortions. This technique involves identifying the unhelpful thoughts, analyzing them for accuracy, and then coming up with more helpful thoughts to replace them.
This process can be challenging, but it’s very effective in helping you to change your mindset and address your cognitive distortions. CBT therapists will often use worksheets or assign homework to help clients work through this process.
It’s important to remember that cognitive restructuring is not a one-time thing.
You’ll need to practice these new thought patterns for them to become automatic. CBT therapists help clients set goals and work towards making these new thoughts part of their thought process so they can start thinking more accurately about themselves, their lives, and the future.
Learning cognitive restructuring is one way CBT helps people learn how to create a positive mindset by changing unhelpful thoughts. CBT is a very effective treatment that has helped many people learn how to create a better mindset through changing their thought patterns. With some practice and a little patience, CBT can help you find peace of mind.
Some questions to ask yourself about your thoughts:
- “Are these thoughts true?”
- “What is the evidence for and against these thoughts?”
- “What is the worst, best, and most likely outcome?”
- “Are these thoughts helpful?”
- “What might you say to a friend in this situation?”
- “If the worst-case scenario happened, how would you deal with it?”
- “What resources do you have to help you?”
- “Are there other ways to think about this situation?”