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Mastering the Mind: The Art of Cognitive Reappraisal

Everyone experiences anxiety, sadness now and then. Negative emotions can signal that something is important, or that something needs to change.

Sometimes emotions become so intense, they overwhelm us. Sadness leads to depression. Anxiety becomes panic. Anger turns into aggression.

Cognitive reappraisal involves recognising the negative pattern your thoughts have fallen into, and changing that pattern to one that is more effective.

Why do I need to know?

Consider the following reappraisals:

  • Oh no! If I’m late to the party, everyone will be angry at me and no one will talk to me.
  • I have the birthday cake in the trunk. Now everyone at the party will have to wait for me before they can get started, and that’s miserable.

These different ways of thinking about the situation will obviously elicit different emotional responses, although they’re not really an improvement on the first response. What’s interesting about them is that all of them contain at least a kernel of truth. None of them is out-and-out irrational. Some of them may be a bit extreme, but not irrational. This is significant because it illustrates there usually isn’t just one way of making sense of a situation. All are valid.

This means it’s possible to take an alternative perspective that is more effective in helping us feel more balanced.

Now consider the following reappraisals:

  • I’m late again. I might as well enjoy the scenery while I’m driving around. · People probably won’t care that much that I’m late.
  • I’m usually on-time. What a fluke!

These appraisals also contain a kernel of truth. They are not merely the “power of positive thinking,” but reality-based ways of re-appraising the situation.

The next time you notice yourself getting in one of these emotion-thought feedback loops, consider a few cognitive reappraisals of the situation, and notice what happens to the volume of your emotions.

This article originally appeared in Psych Newsletter.