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Examples of cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring can help you identify stressful thoughts and replace them with more productive ones. Read on for some examples.

Source: Health Services

Cognitive restructuring is a technique that has been successfully used to help people change the way they think. When used for stress management, the goal is to replace stress-producing thoughts (cognitive distortions) with more balanced thoughts that do not produce stress.

The technique involves first identifying a situation that leads to stress and the thoughts and feelings that arise in that situation. Then you examine the thoughts by determining what is true about them and what is not true about them. Finally, you develop an alternative and more balanced thought and determine how you will feel (outcome) when you adopt this new way of thinking.

Here are a few simple examples:

Example 1

Situation: Some friends are going out to dinner this weekend and I wasn't invited.

Thoughts: My friends don't like me. They think I am boring. I will end up having no friends.

Feelings: Sad. Disliked. Alone. Stressed.

Evidence that supports the thought: I do get moody every now and then.

Evidence that doesn't support the thought: My friends have told me several times that they think I am fun and that I make them laugh. Other friends have not been invited to other activities. I do get invited to most things.

Alternative/balanced thought: My friends like me but that doesn't mean that they have to invite me to everything.

Outcome: I feel happier. I no longer feel stressed about this.

Example 2

Situation: I made a suggestion at the weekly meeting and most people thought it wasn't a good idea.

Thoughts: I have no good ideas. People think I am stupid. I am terrible at my work.

Feelings: Anxious. Disrespected. Stupid. Stressed.

Evidence that supports the thought: Some co-workers pointed out that we don't have enough resources to implement my idea.

Evidence that doesn't support the thought: A few people did think it was a good idea. I often get complimented on my ability to think outside the box. Mine was not the only idea that the group didn't like. People tell me they like the way I work. I usually do a good job.

Alternative/balanced thought: People at work think that I am capable and often have good ideas. I do my work well, but this wasn't one of my best ideas.

Outcome: I feel calmer. I no longer feel stressed about this.

Example 3

Situation: I met with my thesis supervisor and she had many comments about my work.

Thoughts: My supervisor doesn’t like the work I am doing. I will never finish my thesis. I will never have a good career.

Feelings: I feel stressed. I feel stupid. I feel sad.

Evidence that supports the thought: The comments that my supervisor made were valid.

Evidence that doesn't support the thought: I have received many comments in the past on my work and have used the critique to improve it. My supervisor has always been supportive. I have succeeded in all of my academic work in the past ... surely this won't be the first time I fail. The university does not want me to fail and will support me.

Alternative/balanced thought: The comments that my supervisor has made will help to make my research better. Both she and the university want me to succeed.

Outcome: I feel hopeful, intelligent, encouraged, not stressed.

One format of the cognitive restructuring technique is called the "ADCDE' model. See an example here.

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