• Monica Gupta Mehta

Cognitive Distortions: Journaling

Read my complete article on cognitive distortions on Medium.

Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts that reinforce negative thought patterns or emotions.

It can be extremely helpful for students to learn to unravel their unhealthy thought patterns. In order to do this, first they must learn the most common thought distortions, with examples of each type. Here is a chart of distortions.

Image found on reddit.

After learning the thought distortions, students should pick 1-2 that they feel they most commonly do. They should then spend a week observing their own thoughts, and writing down examples of that particular cognitive distortion.

After they have recorded examples, teach them how to reframe their thinking to create a positive mindset.

It can be interesting and helpful for students to next learn a little about the brain itself. Students often enjoy learning about the amygdala, the part of the brain where our stress, anxiety, and fears live. This portion of the brain is created to help us survive, and is supposed to serve as our fight or flight center when danger approaches.

In many people, their brain has learned to let the amygdala run the show. This often happens due to stress. One way to approach cognitive distortions is to tell your students that they are letting their amygdala hijack their prefrontal cortex. Teach them to 'talk back' to their amygdala, externalizing the negative thought patterns. Have them write down these empowering new thoughts in their journals next to the distortions. This is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Mindfulness techniques, such as relaxed breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, can also help with cognitive distortions, as it reduces stress level and decreases the amygdala's control over your thoughts. A second approach to helping students with cognitive distortions is to teach them to accept their thoughts, rather than challenge them. This is a form of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). While the CBT approach and ACT approach may seem to be at odds with each other (one is challenging your thoughts and one accepting them), both help students to create distance from their thoughts, which allows them to be more objective.

Proponents of ACT say that teaching students to accept their thoughts is a more healthy and mindful approach. Proponents of CBT say that research has shown that CBT has longer lasting results. Both have been proven to help students at least short term.

SEL Core Competencies: Self Awareness, Self Management


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