Check It Before You Wreck It

By Amy Brightman, LCSW

Last month, in an introduction to CBT, I introduced the idea of using CBT to manage anxiety, specifically encouraging readers to practice “catch it,” one of the three C’s. This means to be aware of what you are thinking and when you are having negative thoughts. Being aware of your thoughts is a challenging first step given that our thoughts are so automatic and quick. However, if you are able to catch what you are thinking, then you have the opportunity to manage the thoughts that generate negative emotions, such as anxiety. This leads us to the next C, which is to “check it.”     

This steps reminds us to step back and analyze our thoughts. Are my thoughts reasonable and realistic? Are there other possible explanations other than what I’m thinking? The goal is to be objective of your thoughts. This is difficult given that our individual thoughts are our individual perspectives of an event. Therefore, perspectives can have biases and can be different for each person. For example, think of a black cat crossing the street. Some readers may think, “that’s unlucky,” yet other readers may think, “I bet it’s cute.” The situation is the same, but the perspective can vary greatly.

Checking your thoughts means considering perspectives other than your own and challenging any biases your thoughts have. An example of a cognitive bias is black-and-white thinking, such as using words like “always” or “never.” Instead, try to think in gray: Is it accurate that things always go wrong? Find the in-between. Maybe some things don’t go your way, but have there also been times when things go well for you? This relates to having balanced and non-absolute thinking. There are several cognitive biases or thinking styles associated with CBT, particularly ones that ignite anxiety and depression. It is helpful to spend time learning about these thinking styles and finding patterns of thinking that you engage in. Lastly, I recommend that clients ask themselves, “what would I tell a friend or family member who was experiencing the same thing?” This can help generate alternative explanations and reduce the personalization of events. 

Each of these tips encourages people to “check" their thoughts. By generating evidence for and against your thoughts, you are able to then “change” your thoughts and manage negative emotions.  For this month, explore the Internet and learn about thinking styles and try brainstorming alternative explanations for situations that spark anxiety. Next month, we will explore “change it,” and strategies to apply to the ABC model and the three C’s with examples we may experience when approaching the New Year.

Amy Brightman, LCSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are looking for support with managing anxiety or depression, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.