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Overcome Your Negative Thinking

10 Cognitive Distortions That Contribute to Panic

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Updated June 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Negative thinking is an issue that often plagues many people with panic disorder. Some theories of psychotherapy would argue that panic attacks, anxiety, and depression are mostly a result of the way in which we think. In theory, we are what we think we are. Our thoughts guide our feelings, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

Cognitive therapy is one form of psychotherapy that is largely based on this theory. Persistent negative thinking contribute to feelings of fear, hopelessness, and lowered self-esteem. These types of habitual and faulty thinking patterns are known as cognitive distortions.      

The first step toward overcoming your negative thinking is to become aware of when you are experiencing cognitive distortions. Once you have become more conscious of these thoughts, you can then replace them with more realistic ones. This can be challenging to do because negative thinking often becomes so habitual that it can be difficult to even notice when you are doing it. However, with practice you will be able to overcome your negative thinking.  

See if you recognize any of your negative thinking patterns in these 10 most common cognitive distortions among people with panic disorder:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking

When we are falling into this cognitive trap, we are only able to see things in black or white extremes. We see in absolute terms with very little, if any, gray area. Our world becomes divided into two absolute conditions. We think that we are either successful or we are complete failures. When engaging in this type of faulty thinking, we often use unconditional terms, such as nothing or never, to describe ourselves and our experiences.

2. Overgeneralization

When making overgeneralizations, we’ll find ourselves using terms like always and never to describe our life events. We view any negative situation that occurs as being an unlimited pattern of setbacks and defeat. When using this cognitive distortion, we may take one mistake, bad experience, or personal flaw and make broad generalizations about our lives.

3. Mental Filter

By using a mental filter, we focus only on the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. We chose to only see the negative, even when receiving compliments or good news. By continually viewing the glass as half empty, we view the world through fear and negativity.   

4. Discounting the Positive

When we discount the positive, we overlook our personal achievements and disregard our positive attributes. Anything good that happens to us we discount by suggesting it was “just luck” or we deny it by ignoring it.  This type of negative thinking doesn’t allow us to experience our successes and prevents us from believing that we deserve the best in life.

5. Jumping to Conclusions

This cognitive distortions occurs in two ways: We “mind-read” by thinking that others are negatively evaluating us or we “fortune-tell” by predicting a negative future outcome.

Either way, we come to negative assumptions based on few, if any, facts. When we jump to conclusions, we expect the worse to happen and believe that others are judging despite a lack of evidence.    

6. Magnification and Minimization

When we are using this cognitive distortion, we are either blowing things out of proportion or lessening their importance. Our problems become larger than life, while the positive aspects of our lives are ignored. We magnify our small mistakes or imperfections and minimize our admirable traits and achievements.

7. Emotional Reasoning

When overcome by this type of faulty thinking, we are interpreting our situation through our feelings. We feel anxious and then believe that we must be in danger. Emotional reasoning is a prominent distortion for people with panic disorder, as feelings of nervousness can quickly escalate into panic.

8. 'Should' Statements

We use terms such as “should,” “ought,” and “must” as a way to put ourselves down or negatively describe our lives. Should statements typically only make you feel more hopeless about your situation and further diminish your sense of self-worth.

9. Labeling

When we misuse labeling, we believe one of our weaknesses dictates who we are as a person. We may think, “I did this wrong, therefore I am stupid.” Many people with panic and anxiety issues negatively label themselves as “crazy,” “neurotic,” or “emotional.”   

10. Blame

Blaming is a common cognitive distortion that is used to avoid facing our problems. When we blame ourselves or others, we are not dealing with our personal issues head on. We use self-blame when it comes to our fears and anxieties or we may blame others for our causing our difficulties.

 Sources:

Burns, D. D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” Avon Books: New York, 1999.

Burns, D.D. “When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life” Broadway Books: New York, 2006.

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