Last week, we had a brief look at some of the faulty thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) that people develop and the role they play in contributing to anxiety. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some ways to question and challenge these ways of thinking.

Catastrophizing is when we automatically think of a worst-case scenario when faced with something. In our example, the person had received a request to come and see her doctor. Her automatic assumption was, “I must have cancer!”  That’s enough to send anybody into a panic mode where it’s impossible to focus on anything else. Rather than staying in that anxious state, it’s helpful to use a technique called the What If technique. Our fictitious lady would be encouraged to ask herself, “If it is cancer, what would I do?”  She might consider that her doctor would have the medical aspects sorted out; she could talk to a friend who survived cancer in the past and she could count on the support of family and friends. She would then be encouraged to question how likely it is that the worst-case scenario will happen. By confronting the fear and considering possible solutions, she’s enabling herself to have a measure of control over how she’s feeling. Once she’s out of the panic state, she might even consider that her doctor had less catastrophic news for her.

Sometimes, we need to question the evidence supporting our assumptions. In the overgeneralization example, the person didn’t perform well when giving a talk so assumed that she would never be able to get up and give a good talk again. She could look at the evidence supporting her assumption. She did a talk that didn’t go very well. She didn’t really understand her topic well and had left preparation until the last moment. Next, she would challenge the evidence. She has done other talks in the past and they’ve gone very well because she’s understood her subject and prepared well in advance. A more realistic statement might be, “If I don’t prepare well beforehand, I’m unable to grasp my topic well and then don’t speak particularly well. l However, I know when I prepare in advance, that I can do well. I need to ensure that I allow adequate time for preparation in future.

Bret Moore suggests keeping different thought logs to assist in identifying and managing our faulty thinking. If you would like copies of any of these, please email me on . Alternatively, if you or your child suffer from anxiety, and you need some help in identifying these thoughts, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see me on 3897 2706.

Source: Bret A Moore, Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress and Fear. APA, 2014.