Calm Capable Cognitive Distortions: How Do We Cope?

Photo by Vinicius “amnx” Amano on Unsplas

Remaining calm during these past few months has become increasingly difficult. Day to day stressors that in the past, may have appeared fairly innocuous, now have become overwhelming and in some cases feel insurmountable. Our ability to previously draw on a plethora of skills and resources often leaves us frustrated and incapable of accessing these life skills. Instead, we may feel like our feet are planted in a vat of cement. What is it that is keeping us stuck, unable to move forward?

During stressful times it is not uncommon for us to be impacted by psychosocial factors such as excessive worry or sadness. For those who have a diagnosed mental illness, the additional stress of a pandemic may further exacerbate the condition. As a result of excessive worry we may develop habitual, exaggerated, or irrational thought patterns called cognitive distortions. We all have these distortions and they are normal. However, they cause us to perceive reality inaccurately. In other words, our brain is tricking us. Instead of seeing ourselves as calm and capable, we see ourselves as just the opposite. Our beliefs become negatively distorted and we process all thoughts through a negative filter. However, if we learn to challenge and ultimately change these negative thoughts, we cannot only change how we think but also how we feel.

How do we change these cognitive distortions? First, we need to understand what these distortions are and if any of these distortions apply specifically to you. Are you tending to view things more negatively than they really are? View the following 10 most common distortions and decide which ones you may be using most frequently.

All-or-Nothing Thinking; { black and white thinking} Example: This pandemic is awful! I can’t do anything fun anymore. I feel like I’m in a prison. What’s the point of even getting out of bed?

All or Nothing Thinking ( black and white thinking ) You might say to yourself : “This pandemic is awful. I can’t do anything fun anymore. I feel like I am in prison. What’s the point of getting out of bed? Nothing ever works out the way I want it to.”

Overgeneralization: ( attributing a negative outcome based on one single event or incident ) “I tried to practice music on my own, but I just could not focus. Everyone else seems to be able to do it. It must just be me who can’t. I failed when I tried to do my Biology . What’s the use of trying? I will fail every time I try.

Discounting The Positive [believing the positive attributes you possess have no value) My teacher told me I did really well in the last practice, but I know he’s just saying this to make me feel better because I have been feeling sad lately.

Mind Reading : ( Assuming that you know what other people are thinking without having any evidence ) “My dad seemed really quiet today. He didn’t even say good morning. I think he’s angry with me.”

Fortune Telling; ( Jumping to conclusions and predicting future events based on a past event) “I messed up on the last practice. I’m never going to get this music piece correct.”

Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimizing: ( Binocular Trick: When viewing through binoculars, it allows us only to focus on what we are looking for. We either magnify or zero in on a specific feature, not allowing for a true perspective or view. ) “I only got a 60% on my last quiz. I’m probably going to fail this course. I got 90% on all my tests but I am really unsure whether I will have the marks needed to get into my university program of choice.” 

Emotional Reasoning; (Allowing our feelings to interpret our reality. I feel it, therefore it must be true.) “I feel my life is totally out of control because of this pandemic.”  “I feel worried, therefore I must have anxiety. I feel sad, therefore I must be depressed.”

Should Statements;  ( Stop Shoulding on Yourself! ) “I should be helping out more at home during this difficult time.”  Or: “ My parents tell me every day I should feel lucky because others have it a lot worse thanI do. ”I should be doing better in school even though we are in a global pandemic.  “I should get 90”s and if I don’t I am a failure.”

Labeling and Mislabeling; (Attributing one error or decision as a specific trait) “I messed up on the last question on the test. It was so easy. I am such an idiot.” 

Personalization. ( Blaming yourself for everything that may go wrong. It’s not all about you. Others may own a part or all of the situation ) “My parents seem to be arguing a lot more since we’ve been isolated. Maybe I’m irritating them. I need to be better so they don’t argue so much.” Or “My relationship ended because I was not exciting enough and could not spend more time with _____ during the pandemic. “

You may have recognized yourself in some of these distortions. By now you will probably have identified the ones that ring true for you. So in order to remain calm and capable, you must remind yourself of how counter productive these distortions can be. Instead, take time to reframe your thoughts so they more clearly reflect the true picture.

Enlisting friends, family members, coaches, teachers or anyone you trust enables you to better challenge these distortions. This provides for a wide viewed, as opposed to a narrow lens approach. You can now see yourself from a whole new perspective, as a calm, capable, young person, better able to manage the ever-changing world around you.

You Have What It Takes: A- Z Coping Skills for Teens Covid19

Coping in a pandemic is not easy, but we know you have the skills. Covid19  is putting to test our coping strategies. What works for one of us may not work for all of us. We are all attempting to make the best of a situation in which no one was prepared for. You may underestimate your ability to cope. You have what it takes so just keep practicing what works and if you want a little extra help don’t hesitate to reach out. You can learn more about how stress impacts you here.

We all need something to do and something to hope for. Below I hope you will find suggestions for coping that will help you or a friend.

You are more capable than you might think at times. Use the strategies that work best for you.

A- Z Coping Skills for Teens:

A: Allow yourself to feel. Identifying how you feel at this time can be helpful. Maybe you can’t or don’t want to share how you are feeling at this moment, but there are many helpful ways to do so. Put your feelings into a song, a poem, paint, draw or write in a journal. All are healthy ways to express your feelings.

Apps A few apps that could help you with during this time are: Always There Kids Help Phone App, Calm ,  MindShift and  Thinkfull .

B: Books :Reading is a great way to escape from the worries of the world. You could listen to an audio book or maybe even an online magazine. Books can be healing. Try some free books from audible.

Breathe just Breathe

Being OK with not being OK right now is OK. You may find that you have many strengths you never thought you had to cope. 

C: Connection We all need connection , but especially during this time. Who are those people in your life who lift you up? Connect with them knowing that they may need someone to listen to them as well at some other time. 

Care about yourself. Write a positive message to yourself and put it on your mirror with an erasable marker. you could write a positive note to yourself on a card and put it by your bed to remind yourself that you will get through this.

D: Decide to reach out and ask for help if you need it. Reaching out is a strength not a weakness.Your School Counsellors and other professionals are there to help as well as many online support services. It’s ok to reach out.

E: Express your emotions . Feelings are neither right or wrong. It’s what you do with them that matters. If you hurt yourself or someone else then that needs to be changed. Finding a positive way of expressing your feelings that works just for you will matter. Try these 101 Ways to Kickstart Your Day In a Positive Way.

Exercise is always helpful. If you have never exercised before, start now. Try getting out for a 15 mins. or more walk each day especially if you have not exercised before. It’s a great way to clear the mind. You can do it! Find an app or video that helps you.  During this challenging time so many are offering free online exercise classes or videos.

F: Focus on your strengths by finding the strategies that work for you. There are so many coping strategies. Ask your friends what they are doing to cope and use the ones that you think might work for you.

G: Give yourself and others a break. That discomfort you are feeling is grief , the loss of so many things.  Know that everyone is doing their best to cope. This is a challenging time for all. We’ve never been through this before and so if you are being irritable or unreasonable know that is normal. Feel your feelings 

H: Hope . It is so important to maintain a hopeful perspective. It may be hard , but you can do it! There is much to look forward to. If you can’t see it create it.

I: Invite others to help you : Kids Help Phone, your parents, another trusted adult, find someone who can really help you.

J: Just be courageous. You will get through this using all the strengths you have.

K: Kindness is always a good thing . Do a Random Acts of Kindness for someone else today. A little postcard or note in your neighbours mailbox can make their day.

L: Listen to music . It soothes the soul. Here is a chill playlist for teens. Try making one of your own. Here is a playlist of relaxing music to ease your mind.

M: Mindfulness matters. Focus on your breath. Here are some tips for teens.

N: Naming game : 54321 .   54321 Coping Technique and I would add an extra 1,

One thing you are grateful for. 543211.

O: Open your mind to new ideas . This is a time where you can figure out new ways of doing things. There are so many possibilities, a new blog, maybe you can start singing for the first time. It is limitless to what you can do.

Overcome Obstacles

Check out these tips for overcoming obstacles here

P: Prioritize your well being. Positive self talk matters. Make sure you are speaking to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend.

Q: Quiet your mind. Be still! There are times that you may want to retreat to your room and just be still and let go of all your worries. An app like headspace can help with this.

R: Rest is essential at this time. You might get to sleep in at this time and that is great, but remember to get a good night’s sleep. A routine of getting up in the morning and going to bed at the same time is vital and will help especially during this time of elevated stress.

S: See or do something new. Take a virtual tour to reduce some of your stress: Trust that this will not last forever. Take each day one day at a time. Develop and maintain those positive connections with people that heal and help not hurt and harm. Most importantly make sure you take care of yourself. You can find some self-care activities written by teens for teens here.

T: Take a free online class and learn something new. Try a Netflix party. Treat yourself to an extra long bubble bath or shower … enjoy . 

U: Understanding your coping skills matters. What has worked for you in the past to help you cope? Try some of the ideas that you know really help. Here are a few tips on coping with stress.

V: Visualize Where is your safe place? You may need to visualize this safe place more often than usual at this time. I tend to go to the beach and hear the waves crashing on the shore with the sun beating on my face surrounded by the people I love. Having a safe place to go in your mind can be helpful. 

Virtual bubble wrap enjoy click here.

W: Watch a funny show, a free theatre performance from across the world or a concert  to get your mind off all the serious stuff.

X: eXtra special. That’s the way you need to treat yourself. So start today. Try a virtual paint night and have some fun.

Y: YOU MATTER . Remember this always.

Z: A-Z another list. Please share your coping skills and strategies Thanks for adding your ideas in the comments.

Just in case you’d like some important numbers and websites : 

For more information check out some resources in Calgary here.

Resources: Here are a few to check out in Alberta.

Check out Jack.org mental health hub of resources here.

Check out these quarantine tips for teens. Thanks to @calgaryPsychdoc for sharing.

You are capable and can cope. We will all help each other through this.