Cognitive distortions can warp your sense of reality. Here’s what they look like and how you can identify them to see things for what they really are and improve your mental health.
Cognitive distortions are negative thinking patterns based on emotion rather than facts or reality. When it comes to anxiety and depression, these thought patterns play a big role in perpetuating and even exacerbating mental health issues — and this is especially true for those who suffer from Young Onset Parkinson’s.
We know that people living with YOPD are prone to more challenging psychological issues compared to those who are diagnosed with PD later in life. Recognizing and understanding your own cognitive distortions at work is highly beneficial to maintaining your mental health and improving emotional regulation.
You may already know polarization as an “all-or-nothing” or “black-and-white” mindset. You experience polarization when you only consider the extreme outcomes of a situation.
Thinking that YOPD is either going to ruin your life forever or somehow turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you is an example of this kind of thought pattern.
The antidote: Remind yourself that two things can be true at the same time, and shades of grey are much more common than perfect boundaries of black and white.
Have you ever had one of those “off” days and caught yourself thinking that this is it and you’ll never function any better than this again? That’s an example of overgeneralization or assuming that one negative event means that every subsequent event is going to be negative, too.
The antidote: Remember that this negative experience won’t last forever and that you have the power to not let one bad day control your entire week.
This is one of the most common cognitive distortions and contributes a great deal to anxiety, in particular. Personalization happens when we take things personally even though they’re not connected to or caused by us at all.
“I wasn’t invited to that party because my tremors make everyone uncomfortable” is an example of a personalized assumption. In reality, it’s much more likely that your invitation got lost or it slipped the host’s mind — something that has nothing to do with you, your traits, or your characteristics.
The antidote: Challenge your assumptions. Can you think of any other, possibly more realistic explanations? Can you try to see the situation from a different, non-personal perspective and focus only on the facts?
Ignoring the positives and focusing exclusively on the negatives of a situation is a type of distorted thinking called mental filtering.
Maybe you or your Care Partner only focus on the ways that YOPD has hurt your relationship and forget about the ways it’s brought you closer together or made your partnership stronger.
The antidote: For every negative thought, challenge it with an opposing positive thought about the situation. You might be surprised by how many positive thoughts you can come up with.
“I feel so lazy right now because I should be exercising instead of resting.”
Pause. Statements like this are often rooted in deeply internalized family or cultural values. Oftentimes, these values are not appropriate or applicable to you as an individual. Perhaps you are resting because you’re tired, and that’s what your body needs right now.
The antidote: Ask yourself if the expectation that follows that “should” is realistic given the context of the situation. Most of the time, it isn’t.
This distortion happens when we jump to the worst conclusion despite there being little to no evidence to support that conclusion.
For instance, you’re unable to make it to your child’s soccer game this time around because your YOPD symptoms are kicking your butt today. A person who catastrophizes may begin to fear that this will cause irreparable damage to the relationship and that their child will grow up hating them and never speak to them again.
The antidote: Review the evidence and/or the facts of the situation. Does any of it support this hyper-negative conclusion?
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of other cognitive distortions that explain why and how our thoughts can trigger such strong emotions. The main way to manage them is to learn how to recognize when you’re experiencing a distortion, and then reframe your thinking so you can look at the situation from a different, calmer, clearer perspective.
Reflecting on your thinking patterns and the feelings they cause is a great practice to maintain your mental health.