Cognitive Distortions for Students
by The Mind Faculty
Given the changing responsibilities and increasing pressures that children and adolescents face, it’s unsurprising that mental health issues often begin during this period.
More Malaysian students are facing mental health problems. A national survey found that one in five students suffered from depression, two in five suffered from anxiety and one in ten suffered from stress. This can be attributed to different factors such as the growing pressure that students face from their schools, their peers, their families and social media. Worryingly, there is a strong connection between suicides and our exam-oriented academic system.
One way that we can help our children to manage their mental health is to teach them how to identify negative thinking patterns. These thinking patterns influence their feelings and their behaviours, shaping their experience in school and at home. We call these thinking patterns cognitive distortions.
Cognitive Distortions are irrational and biased ways of thinking that cause us to view our reality in inaccurate (and usually negative) ways. If left unchecked, it can have an adverse impact on our mental health.
Cognitive Distortions at School
Here are common cognitive distortions that students may face:
Black or White Thinking
When you sees yourself or a situation in two extremes - there is no grey area:
E.g., “If I don’t get an A on my test, I will be a disappointment to my parents.”
When you draw overarching conclusions based on one or a few events. It often includes words like “always” and “never”.
E.g., “I did so badly on that presentation. This always happens to me. The world is unfair.Why am I trying to hard when things never work out for me?”
When you think that someone is thinking things that they aren’t, even if you have no evidence for it.
E.g., “Why didn’t Melody ask me to come to her house after school today? She thinks that I am annoying. Oh, I didn’t smile at her in the hallway. She must hate me.”
When you predict events are going to unfold in a certain way, usually to avoid something difficult.
E.g., “What is the point of studying for my exam? I am going to fail anyways.”
When you take things that are not connected to you at all personally:
E.g., “Mrs Lim yelled at the class today. It’s my fault. I was day dreaming.”
When you only accept information that fits and perpetuates your beliefs, even when faced with evidence that it is not.
E.g., “I believe that I am lazy. I spent more than 2 hours playing video games yesterday. This must prove I am lazy.” (One the same day, you finished your homework and helped your parents with housework).
When you rely on our emotions to tell us that something is true:
E.g., “I woke up and I feel anxious. Why am I feeling anxious? Something bad is going to happen to me today, I know it. If not why would I feel anxious?”
How to Address Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most popular therapies. It teaches us that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are separate but connected. If we can change our thoughts, we can change how we feel and how we act about something.
Once we identify these negative thinking patterns, we can break away from them. Make a list of your negative thinking patterns. Then list all the evidence to the contrary.
E.g., Black of White Thinking: “If I don’t get an A on my test, I will be a disappointment to my parents.”
Evidence to the contrary: I help my sister with her homework, I bring my mother flowers, I spend time with my grandparents.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or depression, and finding it hard to differentiate between what feels like a 'real' negative thought that deserves your attention and what isn't, speak to a friend or loved one that you trust. If you don't feel better after speaking to them, reach out to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
The Mind Faculty offers therapy for children and adolescents in Kuala Lumpur. Our child psychiatrists and child psychologists can help students manage their stress - and build their emotional resilience to face the different challenges that arise in their home and school lives. We also have developmental psychologist and behavioural specialist who can help children with learning disabilities or ADHD achieve their full potential at school.