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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Filtering by Tag: cognitive distortions

Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Cognitive Distortions

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether you recognize the term or not, at some point you have dealt with a cognitive distortion. These are thoughts that feel like the truth, but they describe an emotional reality rather than an objective one. For those struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression, often chronic and significant cognitive distortions play a big role in the struggle.

Dr. David Burns (1980) outlined 12 of the most common cognitive distortions in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Dr. Burns’ list is adapted below with examples. As you read through the list, see if you recognize examples of any of these distortions in your life.

1. All-Or-Nothing (Black and White) Thinking: You see things in black and white terms, refusing to see any gray area.
Distortion: If I’m not nice to everyone all the time, I’m a jerk.
Reframe: I’m allowed to be assertive and set boundaries. I don’t have to be nice to someone who is being disrespectful to me. Standing up for myself doesn’t make me a jerk.

2. Overgeneralization: You see one or several negative events as a sign of an endless pattern of defeat.
Distortion: I got a bad grade on this math test, so I will never get a good grade on a math test.
Reframe: I got a bad grade on this math test. Maybe I didn’t understand the material or studied wrong. I will talk to my teacher to better understand my mistakes, and hopefully I will do better next time.

3. Mental Filter: You exclusively notice the negative aspects of a situation and magnify them out of proportion. At the same time, you filter out/fail to notice the positive aspects.
Distortion: My presentation went terribly. I lost my train of thought because I got nervous, and I forgot a key point I wanted to make.
Reframe: I stumbled over my words a little bit, but no one besides me seemed to notice. I also forgot a key point I wanted to make. But I got good feedback and everyone seemed engaged during my presentation. Next time I will practice a little bit more, but overall it went pretty well.

4. Minimizing/Disqualifying/Overlooking the Positive: You turn positive experiences or comments into negative ones by deciding that they don’t count for some reason. You overlook positive things about yourself or your environment. You don’t just filter out positive things; you actually turn them into negatives.
Distortion: He only invited me to come to his party because he feels sorry for me and knows I’m a loner.
Reframe: He invited me to come to his party because he wants me to come.

5. Mind Reading: You assume that someone is thinking or reacting negatively to you even though you do not know what they’re thinking.
Distortion: She didn’t wave at me because she doesn’t like me.
Reframe: She didn’t wave at me. She probably didn’t see me, or maybe she had something on her mind.

6. Fortune Telling: You think that something bad is going to happen even though you do not yet know what the outcome will be. This causes you to worry, overreact, or give up too soon.
Distortion: Even though things are going well now, I think he will eventually break up with me and I am afraid I will get hurt. Maybe I should just break up with him now to avoid getting hurt.
Reframe: Things are going well now. I’m not sure what will happen in the future. But for now I will try to be present and enjoy what is.

7. Magnifying/Catastrophizing: You exaggerate the importance of something, or you imagine that something that might happen would be terrible or earth shattering, when it would not actually be as bad as you imagine or you could cope despite it being difficult.
Distortion: I can’t accept the promotion because then I will have to give presentations. I’m terrified of public speaking, and I will get too scared and embarrass myself in front of everyone and then probably lose the job anyway.
Reframe: If I accept the promotion, I will have to give presentations. Lots of people are scared of public speaking. I might make a mistake and I might feel embarrassed or scared, but that’s part of being human. It won’t be the end of the world.

8. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your feelings reflect the truth, even though your feelings are based on erroneous thinking.
Distortion: I feel like a failure, which means I am a failure.
Reframe: I may feel like a failure right now because I am still looking for a job, but job hunting takes time. I am not a failure.

9. Should Statements: You have a list of rules set in stone about how you or others “should” behave, but these rules are arbitrary or unrealistic. You feel guilty or inadequate when you “break” a rule, or get angry or frustrated when others do so.
Distortion: I should have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. I feel guilty if I let them watch TV while I finish up some work instead, and I feel frustrated with my spouse when he/she does the same. 
Reframe: I want to have enough time and energy after work to play with the kids. But sometimes I will be too busy or tired. I will do my best to spend quality time with them, even if sometimes that means cuddling on the couch watching TV while I finish up some emails. On those nights when I really can’t find the time, I will give myself (and my spouse) grace.

10. Labeling: When someone makes a mistake, you don’t objectively evaluate the mistake. Instead you label the person – “I’m a failure” or “They’re an idiot.”
Distortion: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again! He is so inconsiderate. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. I’m a terrible parent!
Reframe: He forgot to lift the toilet seat again. He must have had something else on his mind. Or I forgot my kids had a half day today. Today was really busy and I had too much on my mind. Maybe I need to write down half days on my calendar from now on.

11. Personalization: You think that things that others do or things that happen to you are personalized reactions to you, even if this is not the case.
Distortion: My friend didn’t return my text because she thinks I’m annoying.
Reframe: My friend didn’t return my text. Maybe she is really busy or has something going on in her life I don’t know about. Sometimes I forget to return texts too.

12. Probability Overestimation: You overestimate the likelihood of something bad happening.
Distortion: If I drive, I will get in a car accident, so I am not going to get my driver’s license.
Reframe: Accidents can happen anytime, but the odds are not high. Most people drive every day and nothing bad happens.

Cognitive distortions are not constructive, but experiencing a distortion every now and again is simply part of being human. However, when you are not able to reframe your distortions, or when cognitive distortions begin driving your behavior, they can become a problem.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works to help clients notice, address, and alter these destructive thoughts. When you believe your own destructive thoughts, you may also tend to avoid certain situations on the basis of a false belief. CBT also works to help clients slowly learn to approach rather than avoid such situations. Having a warm, empathic therapist come alongside you throughout this process is healing. She can model compassion for you, helping you learn to have compassion for yourself, while still challenging you to see things in a new and healthier way.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by cognitive distortions, stress, anxiety, and/or depression, you do not have to struggle alone.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

Anxiety in the Courtroom

Jill Stoddard

Witness Preparation Services

by Annabelle Parr

Have you ever felt especially nervous before a big presentation? Do you find your heart racing and palms sweating when you have to speak in front of a large group of people? You’re not alone. On average, people rate their fear of public speaking higher than their fear of death. Potentially one of the highest pressure, highest stakes public speaking situations is on the witness stand in a courtroom or during a deposition. Even the most experienced witnesses can feel anxiety, which left unaddressed can hinder their testimony. Anxiety is the number one communication obstacle in legal proceedings (Pitera, 2013).

Source URL: http://www.utahcriminallaw.net/what-happens-if-a-witness-lies-in-court/

Source URL: http://www.utahcriminallaw.net/what-happens-if-a-witness-lies-in-court/

Witnesses typically have very specific fears related to testifying. Some common witness fears include, but are not limited to, a fear of letting people down, losing their job, making a mistake, looking incompetent, being embarrassed, judged or blamed, or having to reveal private, personal information. Witnesses also tend to take on more responsibility for the outcome of the case than is necessary or realistic (Pitera, 2013).

Though the source of a witness’s anxiety may be completely unrelated to their credibility or honesty, jurors tend to judge witnesses more on the basis of behavior than testimonial content (Afremow, 2011). Therefore, a testimony could be flawless and completely true, but if it is delivered poorly the concrete verbal content may not matter.

Typical anxious behaviors that jurors tend to interpret as signs of unreliability include non-verbal cues such as poor eye contact, fidgeting, appearing tense, and inconsistency of demeanor or tone (Afremow, 2011). Helping witnesses to become conscious of these subtle reactions as well as the sources of their anxiety before testifying can help them to manage the visible cues thus increasing their perceived credibility.

Meeting with a licensed psychologist who specializes in anxiety management is a great way to help prepare witnesses and allow them to address their anxiety before taking the stand. Using cutting edge, evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral techniques, the therapist can help witnesses modify their anxiety, bringing it into an optimal range for peak performance.

Source URL: http://www.everydayhealth.com/smoking-cessation/living/coping-with-the-urge-behaviorally-and-mentally.aspx

Source URL: http://www.everydayhealth.com/smoking-cessation/living/coping-with-the-urge-behaviorally-and-mentally.aspx

Therapeutic techniques that can help prepare witnesses include:

  • cognitive reappraisal, which involves changing catastrophic cognitions that fuel anxiety and lead to poor performance
  • grounding, mindfulness, and relaxation
  • reduction of safety seeking, avoidance, or anxiety driven behaviors such as lack of eye contact, speaking too softly, fidgeting, talking too much or too little, or looking to the attorney for reassurance
  • video-taped feedback, which can help reduce anxiety by showing the witness that they don’t look as anxious as they feel, as well as helping them to notice and address visible safety behaviors

A therapeutic setting offers a safe space to practice testifying and receive non-judgmental, constructive feedback and tools that the witness can apply in court and during depositions. If you or your client are preparing to stand as a witness, know that feeling anxiety is normal, but that it doesn’t have to determine the tone of the testimony.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you know might benefit from witness preparation services for anxiety or stress, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

Afremow, J. (2011). Witness this: Behavioral science in the courtroom. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trust-the-talent/201110/witness

Pitera, M. J. (2013). Witness tip: Anxiety is the #1 barrier affecting communication. Litigation Insights. Retrieved from http://www.litigationinsights.com/witness-preparation-2/witness-tip-anxiety-is-the-1-barrier-affecting-communication/

How To Listen When Someone You Love Is Struggling

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Life presents us each with challenges.  While it is often uncomfortable and painful to grapple with adversity, to experience this struggle and to feel pain is to be human.  At some point, we will all find ourselves in this place, as will those we love.  So how can we help each other?  How can we listen when someone we love is struggling, whether it is with a mental health condition or with a painful experience in his/her life?

 LET GO OF THE IMPULSE TO TRY TO FIX

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

It is painful to watch someone we care for struggle or hurt.  And it’s natural to want to take away her pain or try to fix the problem at hand.  However, despite our best intentions, trying to “fix” does not actually help.  It tends to make the person struggling feel as though she cannot share her pain, sadness, or anger.  Trying to “fix” sends this message: “I can’t handle seeing you in pain, so I have to make everything better.”  It also implies that it is not okay to feel sad or angry or anxious, and that these feelings should be avoided at all costs.

AVOID ADVICE

Just like our impulse to fix the pain, we also often believe that the best way to help is to offer advice.  But advice is usually not helpful for several reasons.

  1. If we offer good advice, our loved one will think that anytime he is struggling, he needs our instruction. 
  2. If we offer bad advice or our advice doesn’t work as we hoped, our loved one can place the blame on us instead of owning responsibility.
  3. Advice takes away the gift of helping our loved one to realize that she knows herself best, and ultimately she is capable of navigating difficult situations herself.  (Though, of course, she will always have our love and support).

LIMIT SHARING YOUR OWN SIMILAR EXPERIENCES

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

If you have had a similar experience or believe that you have felt the same way, you can share this with your loved one.  But don’t make it all about you.  Keep your story brief, and make sure the purpose of the story is to let him know that he is not alone.  Also, be sure to include that you understand that your experience, while maybe parallel in some ways, is yours, and you are not claiming to have experienced the exact same situation or feelings.  This allows him to feel comfort in not being alone, but also gives him space to communicate how his experience may be different.

If we shouldn’t try to fix the pain or offer advice, and we should limit how much we share of our own experience, what can we do to help?

REFLECT OR PARAPHRASE BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT YOU HEAR HIM/HER EXPRESSING

This shows that we are listening, and gives us the opportunity to clarify that which we don’t understand fully.  While it may sound too simple to just reflect what our loved one is saying, it actually makes the person feel heard and understood.  It also offers her the opportunity to hear what she is expressing, and to clarify how she feels or what she wants.

USE NONVERBAL SIGNALS TO SHOW YOU ARE ENGAGED

Nodding and using eye contact and engaged body language shows that we are interested and open to what our loved one is sharing.  It gives him the space to express himself, and makes him feel heard.

SHOW EMPATHY

Empathy is: “I see that you are struggling and hurting right now, and I am so sorry.  I can’t fix it for you or take it away, but I will sit here with you and listen to your story.  As much as this hurts, it is okay to feel this way.”

Check out Brene Brown’s brilliant short on empathy.

Sometimes, all our loved ones need when they are in pain is to be heard; to be given a space with someone they trust to express how they are feeling.  Sometimes, however, they may need some extra support or professional help.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:
Brown, B.  (2013, Dec 10).  Brené Brown on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

That Which Fuels the Fire of Anxiety: Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

 

We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives (likely many times over, in fact), though perhaps it manifested in different ways. You may have noticed the rapidly increasing pitter-patter of your heart, the fast, constricted breaths, the growing tension in your shoulders and neck, clammy hands, or maybe a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach. The experience of anxiety is unpleasant, to say the least, and as it builds, it certainly has a way of getting our attention.

Why do we experience these uncomfortable sensations that we call anxiety? From an evolutionary perspective, fear and anxiety (two related but slightly different emotions) have a function: they keep us alive. More specifically, fear and anxiety are emotions that occur in response to a perceived threat. When we believe that something may harm us or is dangerous, we feel these emotions and they motivate us to protect ourselves from the danger, typically either by avoiding or escaping the threat. Without fear or anxiety, we may not react to truly dangerous situations in an adaptive way, and thus not survive as a species. Imagine walking along and crossing paths with a Grizzly Bear. Would it be helpful to feel no fear, and to run up and hug it? Obviously for most of us, this would not end well! Our emotions give us invaluable information about the environment and about what actions we should take, based on how we feel.

As incredible as our brains are, they also are prone to errors. We are not always able to accurately assess the true amount of danger (or safety) that may be present in our surroundings. Sometimes this means that we may miss a true threat that was present and suffer the consequences. However, in our modern day society, more often than not we experience the opposite – we overestimate the true amount of threat and thereby experience excessive anxiety as a result.

The problem with excessive anxiety is that it can negatively impact the quality of our lives in multiple ways. Prolonged, pervasive anxiety has an impact on our physical well-being, in addition to our psychological well-being. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to a deterioration of optimal physical functioning, preventing your immune system, digestive system, and heart from performing the best that they can. Chronic anxiety may also interfere with your ability to sleep, eat, and generally function as you’d like to in life.

 

 

 

How does anxiety become problematic? Cognitive-behavioral therapists tend to understand most mood and anxiety disorders using the cognitive triad, which breaks down our experiences into thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. In brief, anxiety is both developed and maintained by an interplay between certain unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns. For example, anxiety may be perpetuated by certain ways of thinking. A low threshold for perceiving threat (i.e. situations very easily feel threatening) and an attentional bias to threat (i.e. focusing and narrowing your attention on potential dangers that surround you) can contribute to feeling anxiety. In other words, if we easily feel threatened and continue to be on the lookout for threat, we will likely frequently feel anxious. Another thinking pattern that feeds anxiety is called catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thinking occurs when our mind jumps to imagining worst-case scenarios when we are uncertain about an outcome.  For example, our mind may imagine that our loved one has been involved in a car accident because they still haven’t returned home 30 minutes after they said that they would. Furthermore, probability overestimation occurs  along with catastrophic thinking – this is when we overestimate how likely it is that the “worst-case scenario” has or will occur. When we are feeling anxious, we often feel very certain that the worst-case scenario will occur  even though realistically-speaking, the chances are much lower (or are little to none) that what we fear will actually happen. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to recognize this while we are in the midst of severe anxiety – instead, we may engage in worry orrumination (i.e. brooding) about the many possible negative “what if” scenarios, and use extensive cognitive energy to plan for or prevent potential future threats from occurring. In moderation, worrying and planning for future threats can be helpful, but when it begins to take excessive time and energy (which is quite exhausting), it becomes maladaptive and interferes with your ability to function optimally. More often than not, the cost of worrying exceeds the benefits (it may become a waste of energy) and actually feeds the anxiety that it is intending to placate.

 

These are just a few ways that our patterns of thinking can create and maintain anxiety. In our next blog, we will talk more about unhelpful or inaccurate thinking patterns (also called cognitive distortions) and some suggestions for creating more adaptive ways of thinking and behaving in response to anxiety.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with a professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help with anxiety, please click here.

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Resources

http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/how-worrying-affects-your-body

http://www.apa.org/divisions/div12/rev_est/cbt_gad.html

 

 

 

References

Barlow, D. H. (2004). Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. Guilford press.

Behar, E., DiMarco, I. D., Hekler, E. B., Mohlman, J., & Staples, A. M. (2009). Current theoretical models of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Conceptual review and treatment implications. Journal of Anxiety Disorders23(8), 1011-1023.

Beck, A. T., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. L. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books.

Sibrava, N. J., & Borkovec, T. D. (2006). The cognitive avoidance theory of worry. Worry and its psychological disorders: Theory, assessment and treatment, 239-256.

Tags: anxietycognitive behavioral thearpyanxiety therapy san diegoanxiety therapyworryCognitive Behavioral TherapyCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementcognitive distortionsemotion regulationanxiety disordersunhelpful thinking