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Cognitive Diary Example


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The following is an example to help learn how to identify and change irrational thinking. It is best to read the articles defining the irrational styles of thinking prior to trying to identifying the styles in the example. It uses the format of the COGNITIVE DIARY CBT SELF-HELP app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

What If My Co-workers Find Out I Have an Anxiety Disorder?

EVENT: I need to take a leave of absence from work.

EMOTIONS: dread, humiliation, helpless

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: “I'm having problems with my depression and anxiety which is interfering with work. I need to take a leave of absence for treatment. What will my co-workers think of me if they find out why I'm not at work? They'll either think I'm faking it to take time off work or they'll think I am pathetic because I am anxious and depressed. Either way they won't treat me the same and they might be talking about me behind my back. I am so weak and ashamed that I can't control my problems like other people do.”

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of dread, humiliation, helplessness?

The Cognitive Diary CBT Self-Help app helps you to determine some ways to challenge the irrational thinking. Once you have done that, it is important to read the rational challenges frequently until they automatically come to mind rather than the irrational thinking.


Irrational Beliefs:
1) Mind-reading Others. In this situation, the person is making an assumption about what co-workers might think. There may not be evidence for the conclusion that others will think he/she is faking or weak. Unless there is clear evidence such as how co-workers have behaved in the past, it is possible that co-workers won't be thinking negatively about the individual. Many people have anxiety or depression themselves and may understand what the individual is experiencing. Therefore, it is possible that co-workers will not be negatively assessing this employee.

2) Negative Evaluation of Self/Others. Given that this person is negatively evaluating the self, he or she is more likely to negatively evaluate the opinions of others. This individual is labeling him/herself as weak and is feeling ashamed. As a result, this person tends to expect that others will have a similar opinion and is expecting the worst from others. It is important to recognize that a self-assessment is not always the view of others. It is possible that co-workers could be understanding and supportive.

3) Shoulds. This individual is placing a demand on him/herself regarding handling the anxiety and depression. Specifically, the demand involves a comparison to others and an expectation of being in control. It is not always possible to control events, illnesses, or injuries that occur. Depression and anxiety disorders, as mental illnesses, are not different in that aspect. However, this individual is taking a leave of absence to seek treatment which is a positive step to be commended. This person needs to access him/herself based on what is controllable rather than on what is not. Having a problem is not controllable whereas what we do about a problem is controllable.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I don't know that other people will be thinking negatively about me. It is also possible that they will be supportive and understanding of the situation. Also, if I'm not ashamed and feeling weak, other people may be less likely to view me that way. And if they do, it is because they are mean-spirited, lack empathy, or lack information about anxiety disorders. So what if people talk behind my back? That doesn't mean it is true. I don't need to focus on those people because I'm sure there will be some who are understanding and supportive. I need to see the positive in myself no matter what other people might think."

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