The recent election continues to have a measurable impact on people's moods, with many of my clients (and friends and family) expressing fear, sadness, and anger. Of course, developing a plan to fight for what one believes in and expressing one's values in meaningful ways, both big and small, help us feel less hopeless and more autonomous. Indeed, many concerned citizens are moving toward action.
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, professor, and author. She received her B.A. with distinction in psychology from Yale University, with an additional major in American Studies. She completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at American University, with post-doctoral work at George Washington University. Specializing in the treatment of young adults, relationships, and life transitions, Dr. Bonior's additional clinical interests include anxiety disorders, eating disorders, women's issues, alcohol abuse, and grief and loss.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
But as a cognitive-behavioral therapist, however, I am trying to help people adjust their thinking, not just their behavior. How can I feel less hopeless? What can I do to stop the downward spiral of catastrophic thinking? Helpful therapeutic techniques can benefit you even if you never set foot in a therapist's office. The following five techniques can help shift your thinking—not into complacency, but into hope and health, which will help you move toward action.
1. Don't exaggerate. Stay specific.
One of the most common cognitive errors underlying catastrophic thinking involves exaggerating the effect of something negative, like believing that because some people feel a certain way, then everyone must. Or imagining that if one aspect of your life is going poorly, then your entire life is falling apart. All-or-nothing and black-and-white thinking are cousins to this mindset. When you engage in these types of thinking, it becomes less and less possible to salvage ways to be optimistic, because the whole of your perspective is being painted over with a negative brush. To change your way of thinking, start small: What aspects of your home, your daily routine, and your loved ones continue to bring you joy and comfort? What pieces of your life still feel good to you? What parts of your life feel safe, make you laugh, bring you pleasure, and keep you relaxed? Don't let those be tainted by thinking in overgeneralized terms.
2. Sleep. Yes, sleep.
We all know that we feel worse when we are sleep-deprived: It often makes us more irritable and unable to think clearly. We may be aware of how this affects our interactions with others, but we often are less aware of how much it can distort our perspective on the world. There is evidence that sleep deprivation makes us more hypersensitive to threat, which leads us to more negative interpretations of things; the result is that we become focused on molehills which we then turn into mountains. Evolution likely has bred this into us: A sleep-deprived organism is more vulnerable to predators, so our brains overcompensate and go on high alert. In modern times, however, this can do more harm than good.