Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive Restructuring is a core technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the most well-studied and effective approach to treating common mental health issues like anxiety and depression. And while it’s often used to treat clinical disorders like anxiety and depression, Cognitive Restructuring can be just as useful to anyone who struggles with overly-negative thinking patterns and self-talk.

Cognitive Restructuring is based on the principle of cognitive mediation which says that how we feel emotionally is not the result of what happens to us, but instead, it’s the result of how we think about what happens to us. This means that we can change the way we feel by changing the way we think about what happens to us.

  1. It helps us get organized mentally. Just like making a to-do list helps us feel more organized and less overwhelmed when we’re working on a big project, Cognitive Restructuring helps us feel better by getting our mental space better organized.
  2. It forces us to slow down. Every negative thought leads to a corresponding “dose” of negative emotion. If you can slow down your thinking and have fewer thoughts, you’ll end up with less emotion.
  3. It helps us be more aware. Thoughts and the emotional reactions they produce can happen quite automatically. Cognitive Restructuring helps us notice and become more aware of our mental habits, which is an essential step in eventually modifying them.
  4. It gives us a sense of agency and control. By noticing our default thinking patterns as just that, a default, and then generating new alternative thoughts, we change negative thoughts from something uncontrollable that happens to us to things we actually have a good amount of control over.
  5. It helps us think more clearly and rationally. By encouraging us to question and examine our initial line of thinking, Cognitive Restructuring helps us to see errors or mistakes in the way we’re thinking. As we’ll see in a later section, identifying Cognitive Distortions is a key ingredient in managing our negative thinking patterns and moods better.
  6. It helps us reflect instead of reacting. When we’re upset, it’s natural to just react—worry more, crack open another beer, distract ourselves with YouTube, etc. Aside from the negative effects that go along with some of our favorite reactions to being upset (“empty” calories, wasted time, etc.), by always reacting without reflecting, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to better understand our minds and learn how they work. Which of course is important if we want them to run more smoothly.
  7. It breaks bad mental habits. We can get into mental habits (like worry, for example) just as easily as we can get into physical habits like twirling our hair or biting our lip. The key to breaking those habits is to notice when we start doing them and substitute a different behavior. Cognitive Restructuring does just that: it forces us to notice bad mental habits and replace them with better ones.
  1. Manage Worry and Anxiety Better
  2. Break Out of Rumination and Depression Spirals
  3. More Effective Stress Relief
  4. Avoid Procrastination and Be More Productive
  5. Improve Communication and Relationships
  6. Increased Optimism and Outlook
  7. Help with Addiction and Sobriety Issues
  8. Build Assertiveness and Self-Confidence
  9. Cultivate Empathy and Self-Compassion
  10. Gain Increased Self-Awareness and Personal Insight

1. Hit the pause button

2. Identify the trigger: who, what, when, where

3. Notice your automatic thoughts

4. Identify your emotional reaction and note how intense it is

5. Generate alternative thoughts

6. Re-rate the intensity of your emotional response

Read more in our 6 Steps Leaflet

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Mindfulness and Mindfulness Exercises

Mindfulness is defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003 p. 145). In other words, mindfulness involves directing attention to the experience in the present moment and a non-evaluative observation of that experience. Research has consistently shown that mindfulness is an important predictor of well-being. For instance, the trait of mindfulness has been associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, more positive affect, less negative affect, greater life satisfaction, and sense of autonomy and competence. Higher levels of mindfulness have also been found to be associated with various positive psychological outcomes, such as lower levels of neuroticism, depression, and anxiety as well as higher levels of self-esteem, vitality, and authenticity.

​Mindfulness is a natural human capacity that untrained laypersons can experience. Natural variations in mindfulness are likely due to variations in genetic predisposition and environmental influences. However, mindfulness can also be trained. Research has revealed that meditation practice enhances mindfulness and thereby promotes psychological health in clinical and non-clinical samples. The goal of mindfulness interventions is to teach participants to become aware of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions and to relate to them with an open, non-judgmental attitude. Such an open state of mind can be cultivated by repeated practice. It is important to note that mindfulness is related to but not equal to meditation. Although mindfulness is often predominantly associated with meditation, the range of practical mindfulness exercises vastly extends beyond formal meditational practice. In other words, “sitting on a cushion” is merely one way of cultivating “an openhearted, moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness”. Integrating mindfulness into daily life routines and working habits is an important consideration, especially when under time pressure, deadlines, and tight schedules.

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