Distortions in thought may be at the root of depression, anxiety, etc. but they also twist our perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how we can do better.
Hey, everyone, Dr. Z! Okay, in psychiatry, there’s a thing called cognitive behavioral therapy where you actually learn to recognize distortions in your thinking that lead to depression, anxiety, all the other problems that you can have, and there’s a long list of these cognitive distortions.
Well, it turns out that during this pandemic, many people, myself included at times, are showing these cognitive distortions en masse. Let’s just talk about a few of them and how they apply to the pandemic, because if you recognize these, you can catch yourself doing them and abort the negative consequences in terms of fear, anxiety, and bad actions in the world.
The first one is catastrophizing. How many people, especially on social media, in the mainstream media, and elsewhere, have turned some event, like, oh, cases are rising, into the end of the world. So “Oh my God, that means I’m gonna die, and my family’s gonna die.” Okay, this misunderstands risk, and it misunderstands statistics, and it misunderstands reality by magnifying something into a catastrophe.
Now, the flip side of that… And, by the way, that seems to be a function of the left, right now, they love to catastrophize. So what does the right do? The opposite: minimizing. Minimizing is when you say, “Oh, you know what, we’re seeing all this data, but it’s nothing, it’s gonna blow over, nothing’s gonna happen, I don’t need to wear a mask, or social distance, or worry about it ’cause it’s a hoax.” Both extremes of that are distorted thinking.
Now speaking of that, that’s another distortion, polarization or black-and-white thinking, only seeing extremes, only seeing things in shades of it’s this or it’s that, a binary thinking. That’s not how the world works. So either you wear a mask or you’re a complete a-hole, right? No one realizes there’s a whole nuance shade of why people behave the way they behave, but we then project this black or white thinking onto others and onto ourselves, to great destruction of our civility and our ability to be influential and effective in the world, right?
Another cognitive distortion we see a lot is something called filtering. How often do you see this on Facebook? Filtering is where you pick out, let’s say, all the negative things, and ignore the positive. So someone says a bunch of stuff about you, most of it’s positive, but you pick up that one little negative comment, and stew and perseverate on it.
Or the opposite, you see the world through rose-colored glasses, but ignore all the negative stuff that could actually change your behavior. We see this all the time. “I’m gonna pick this study, and this study, and this study, ignore all the other studies that disagree with what that says.” Right?
Another common thing we see now is overgeneralizing. Taking one example of something and applying it to everything. So you see a picture of a bunch of people in Orange County, on a beach, behaving like, you know, buttholes, and you just assume that everyone in Orange County is an a-hole. Or you see a picture of one person not wearing a mask, protesting, and you assume everyone on the planet is doing exactly that. This is overgeneralizing, right? And it’s a distortion because it ignores what’s actually happening in the world statistically. It’s not helpful at all.
So we have filtering, overgeneralizing, black-and-white thinking, and catastrophizing. And that’s just four of long list of cognitive distortions. Focus on those in yourself. Focus on those in others who tweet at you or Facebook message you, saying, “This, this, this, this, this, this , this.” Go, “You know, it’s interesting, I think I’m experiencing a cognitive distortion here, either from you or from myself.” And let’s look a little more broadly at what may actually be true which is always shades of gray, nuance, and assuming the best intent from people instead of the worst.
And so if we can just do that, and share this video, I think we’ll go a long way. I love you guys. We out!