So far in this “Knowledge and Understanding” stage we have separated worry into productive or unproductive and identified the characteristics of each. Experts have elaborated on other facets of worry such as the mental, physiological, behavioural, and interpersonal aspects. This post will deal with the mental or intellectual component, which psychiatrist and psychologists often refer to as cognitive.
The “Cognitive Model”
Worry is defined as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated”. It’s your own thoughts that determine how you feel. For a long time, Freud’s view that the unconscious mind caused our anxieties held sway in psychiatry. In the 1960’s, psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck and psychologist Albert Ellis, working separately, created a new model of treatment to relieve psychological stress. They made two revolutionary discoveries:
There’s a good chance that you’re thinking causes you to feel anxious even when there is no impending danger; if you think anxious thoughts your body follows these thoughts as if they were real; and
If your thinking is distorted it can lead to anxiety or depression; these warped views are caused by flawed interpretations of oneself, others, and the world.
Robert L. Leahy in The Worry Cure, Harmony Books, New York, 2005 identifies the most common cognitive distortions as:
Focussing on negatives: persecuting yourself because of the ruined dessert and disregarding that the other dishes were excellent;
Expecting the worst: “Physics is too hard; I won’t pass.”;
Minimizing positives: trivializing your success; “I was lucky that they were in a good mood.”;
Labelling: limiting descriptors to one general term; “He‘s always unfair.”;
Judging: narrowing your views to singular labels such as good, bad, inferior, superior; “Should” statements: instead of “I must pause and try to understand …“ – “I should never get angry.”;
Dwelling in the past: commiserating over what you could have done better in the past; “If I had passed that exam I would have been much better off.”;
“What if” thinking: prolonged thinking of obstacles and calamity; “What if she doesn’t make the hockey team?”, “What if she doesn’t play well enough?”, “What if she gets injured?”;
Overgeneralization: one negative idea swamps everything else; “Don’t move to Vancouver; it’s in an earthquake zone.“;
All-or-nothing thinking: events and people are viewed as either “black” or “white” with no in-between shades; “Flying is dangerous.”, “She’s so vain.”;
Catastrophic thinking: overestimating or exaggerating the threat; anticipating that things will turn out so poorly that you won‘t be able to deal with them; “If I lost my job, my life would be over.”;
Mind reading: guessing what others are thinking and being very certain about it; “He thinks I can’t do it.”;
Unfair comparisons: evaluating yourself against an unrealistic standard; “Why can’t I write as well as Malcolm Gladwell?”;
Personalizing: assuming too much of the blame or responsibility for things that did not work out;
Blaming: assuming none of the blame or responsibility for things that did not work out, but assigning it to others;
Letting your feelings take over: your anxiety leads to depression or jealousy instead or trying to figure out what to do to change the situation;
These distortions mask reality and prevent progress.
“Toxic worry is usually based on either lack of information or wrong information.”
Dr. Edward Hallowell