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Stinking Thinking

Photo by Gutter

Changing your thoughts can change your emotions.

We all engage in what CBT practitioners call ‘thought distortions’ (also called ‘stinking thinking’).  Someone at work looks at us strangely and we think ‘They don’t like me’.  We don’t get a job we’re up for and we think ‘I’m a failure’.  We decide to not attend a social function because, ‘I won’t like anyone there.  I won’t have any fun”.  We get lots of compliments on our new haircut but we focus exclusively on the one person who didn’t like it.

Thoughts such as these don’t reflect reality.  They represent our world as seen through a gloom-colored lens.  The reality is that by talking-back to these distorted thoughts, you can improve your mood and begin making healthier decisions.

There are many reasons why we may practice this distorted thinking.  We may be tired or hungry.  We might be suffering from depression, and our brain may not be producing or utilizing serotonin or dopamine correctly.  We may be experiencing the effects of depressants such as alcohol or crashing from stimulants like caffiene, cigarettes or amphetamines.  Normal hormonal shifts in our monthly cycles (men too!) may also affect our thought processes.

So what’s a stinky-thinker to do?  First, we must realize the truth that our thoughts do not always reflect reality.  That’s hard to do as we’re accustomed to relying on our brain to give us valuable information about our environment.  We’re used to seeing a table and having our brain tell us ‘there is a table’, thus preventing us from bruising ourselves as we walk across a room.  But when it comes to more subjective information, it is good to question our first impressions.

Once we’ve accepted that our thoughts are often distorted, we next can begin to identify when we are practicing thought distortions.  A good way to do this is to catch yourself in a bad mood.  When you’re feeling sad, angry, lonely, depressed, or anxious grab a pen & paper and write some of your thoughts down.  Try to get to the heart of why you’re feeling badly. 

Next, start with one of the thoughts you’ve written down and ‘talk-back’ to the thought distortion.  That means you compare your thought to the likely reality of the situation.  This can be difficult to do if you are feeling ‘stuck’ in a mood.  Sometimes it’s easier to think about what you would say to cheer up a friend who was having a rough day.  Here’s some examples.

Distorted Thought – ‘I’ll never get a job I like.’
Talk-back – ‘I’m disappointed because I didn’t get this particular job but I know there are many jobs out there and it’s likely that I’ll find one that makes me happy.  I just need to be patient with the process.’

Distorted Thought – ‘I know if I go to this party I won’t have a good time.’
Talk-back – ‘I might have a good time and I might not.  I certainly won’t know if I don’t go and I certainly won’t have a good time if I go in with a negative attitude.  Sure it’s hard to get out there but the reality is that I often have fun once I get out.’

If you find that you’re having trouble talking-back, then ask a positive friend or your therapist to help you.  Sometimes a more subjective perspective can be invaluable!

Here’s a link to a list of common thought distortions to help you see some of the ways our brains can distort our vision of reality.

Happy Thinking!


April 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm 7 comments

Shedding Light On Seasonal Affective Disorder


Photo by Garrette

Now that the winter cold and darkness has descended on San Francisco, many are finding themselves exhibiting symptoms of depression. If you experience lack of energy, lower appetite or sex drive, and depressed and/or irritable feelings more often in the winter, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Once written off as quack-psychology, Seasonal Affective Disorder is now a well established, and very real mental health concern. And luckily, studies are beginning to give us real answers about treatment of this disorder. The New York Times recently wrote an interesting article on the subject.

“A major biological signal tracking seasonal sunlight changes is melatonin, a brain chemical turned on by darkness and off by light. Dr. Wehr and Dr. Rosenthal found that the patients with seasonal depression had a longer duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion in the winter than in the summer, just as with other mammals with seasonal behavior.”

According to these studies, the solution may be quite simple – exposure to bright light. Amazingly enough, research is confirming that spending at least 30 minutes exposed to flourescent soft-white light at 10,000 lux a day typically produces results in 4 to 7 days. Timing is important, as you are working with your body’s normal circadian rhythms but some are even able to forgo antidepressants utilizing this light therapy.

If you feel you may be suffering from SAD, you can evaluate yourself here. And here’s more on light therapy studies in Medical News Today.

Now if we can just do something about this rain…

January 29, 2008 at 4:48 am 2 comments

Let the blogging begin!

Hello and welcome to my blog!

Check back here in the near future for musings, info, and links on mental health and personal growth.

Here’s wishing you a 2008 of adventure, clarity, and love!

December 21, 2007 at 5:14 pm 1 comment


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