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Proven Effective Ways to Manage Stress Through Cognitive Restructuring

Updated on July 12, 2017

Stress and Perceptions

Death of a loved one, increasing debts, dysfunctional family, and toxic employers, all these stressors come in various sizes, shapes, and intensity. Researchers concur that it is not the situation that is stressful, but the individual’s interpretation or perception of the situation. If the person develops a negative perception, it can turn into a physical and mental liability. Whatever the circumstance, perceptions can become magnified and distorted entirely out of proportion to their degree of seriousness. This is called cognitive distortion, and it turns problems into humongous monsters. Efforts have been made to manage the stress monster from all facets, including manipulating or reducing sensory information and educating people to manage the stress response by using different relaxation techniques. Perhaps the most advocated coping skill is altering the stressful interpretation or perception of the circumstance that has caused feeling of fear and anger. This change in perception is done through cognitive restructuring. Cognition is defined as the mental process that encompasses an assortment of reasoning and thinking skills.

Purposes of Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring alters the current mind frame to a less threatening interpretation or perception, from a negative, self-defeating behaviour to a positive one, which may then lead to the initiation of the steps toward a peaceful resolution. The purpose of cognitive restructuring is to broaden one’s conscious perspective and allow for a change in perception. The capacity to expand perception is not just a poetic expression. In stressful situations, the person’s perceptual field of vision constricts. Hence, one sees only the small picture and fails to recognize the whole picture. Cognitive restructuring involves assuming accountability, confronting the reality of a circumstance, and taking the offensive to find solutions to the issues that cause stress. Establishing and adopting a positive mind frame can be daunting. Often, people find it easier to avoid responsibility and be consumed by their negative thinking techniques, which generate a preponderance of toxic thoughts.

Restructuring the Mind


Of Luck and Positive Thinking

Watts Whacker is a futurist employed by many Fortune 500 companies to analyze current trends and information to determine the future of the business in the global market. In one of his interviews, Whacker was quoted saying that the optimists will have a good future and the pessimists will not. That is, a self-defeating behaviour brings an unlucky perspective on life while an optimistic attitude attracts positive people and events.

To restructure interpretations or perceptions to experience good luck, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, England, suggests adopting certain attitudinal behaviours:

1. Take a proactive stance instead of playing the role of a victim to make the most of your chance opportunities.

2. Listen to what your intuition dictates. Follow your gut feelings and learn to listen to what your intuition says rather than the voice of fear that always holds you back.

3. Concentrate on the positive side of things and take calculated risks. Meet new people and be involved in new activities to boost the chance of expanding your thoughts and potentially making and accomplishing new goals.

4. Find what is good in a bad situation. Every circumstance has a good side and a bad side; at every moment, decide which is which.

Luck is not about winning the lottery or finding a hundred dollar bill on the ground. Luck is a cognitive perception that each can tune into once they make the choice to do so.

Optimism is the Key


Steps to Start Cognitive Restructuring

There are four stages involved in adopting changes in lifestyle behaviours through cognition to promote health. The stages include the following:

1. Awareness

The awareness procedure involves three steps. The first step is about identifying and acknowledging stressors. This includes jotting down what is on the mind, such as worries and frustrations. The next step is identifying why these events and situations are stressors. The final step is about giving appraisal to the primary stressor and acknowledging the feelings associated with it. If the initial perception is negative or defensive and stops you from resolving this problem, the next stage is reappraisal.

2. Reappraisal

A reappraisal is also known as a second opinion that you create in your mind to provide a different point of view. A reappraisal is a restructuring or new assembly of the elements involved, and the openness to accept a new outlook. At this stage, a second opinion or even third involves selecting a positive stance to deal with the current issues. Recall what factors can be controlled and what must be accepted as out of control.

3. Adopt and Substitute

Implementation is the hardest part of an attitudinal change. As soon as a new frame of mind is formed, it must be adopted and implemented. People are lovers of habit, seeking comfort in familiar entities even if the familiar is less than desirable. Also, pessimism is a defense mechanism, and even though it is not perceived as enhancing people’s potential, there is comfort in the familiarity of old habits and change does not come easily. There are dangers convoluted in change. Substituting a positive behavior for a negative perception may give a feeling of vulnerability, but like other skills that develop with practice, a new comfort will develop. With cognitive restructuring, the new perception must often be substituted when the stress is encountered, and repeated.


The test of any form of a new venture is to assess its effectiveness. If it turns out that the new perception was a total failure, go back to stage 2 and make a new reappraisal. If the new perception worked, repeat the procedure with stressors that demand a change in behavior to resolve and bring closure.

Reframing Thoughts


More Tips on Cognitive Restructuring

1. Start a relaxation method to calm the mind.

When a relaxation method is used, the mind starts to unwind and consciousness changes from an analytical state to a receptive state. In this very unwinding procedure, insignificant thoughts begging the conscious mind for attention are discharged, enabling greater receptivity to a broader perspective on the problem at hand. A broader perspective in turn promotes personal enlightenment as well as opens up room for positive thoughts.

2. Be accountable for your thoughts.

During stressful periods, we often feel victimized. We also feel that things are already beyond our control. A way to achieve temporary control is to put the blame on others for the personal injustice of the perceived stressor. Blame is related to guilt and guilt can be a very toxic thought. If you find yourself blaming others for the circumstances that make you feel victimized, question yourself how you can reverse the situation by taking responsibility for your feelings and thoughts without the sense of guilt.

3. Fine-tune expectations.

Refining expectations before meeting a stressor is easier than reframing behaviour after a fact. A lot of times, we walk into situations with preconceived expectations. When these expectations do not satisfy us, negative feelings are generated. Fine-tuning expectations does not mean lowering self-esteem or abandoning ideals. Instead, it means running the perceptions via reality check, evaluating their validity, and allowing them to match the situation.

4. Shower yourself with positive affirmations.

The constant internal conversation going on within the conscious mind tends to be dominated by negative thoughts produced by the ego. Even though created for good purposes, a preponderance of negative self-feedback destroys self-esteem. Positive affirmations balance this internal conversation with positive thoughts to boost self-esteem and self-confidence.

5. Highlight the positive.

There is a big difference between focusing on the positive and positive thinking. Positive thinking is an expression of hope about future events. It is characterized by establishing goals, wishful thinking and dreaming. While it is healthy to have positive thoughts, done to excess can turn into denial. Focusing on the positive is about reframing the present situation. It is an appreciation of the current time. Acknowledge the negative. Learn from it, but do not dwell on it. Focus on what is positive about it and build on them.

Cognitive Restructuring to Change Your Life


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