Do you have irrational thoughts? Clear them by asking yourself these questions

Do irrational thoughts ever invade your mind, causing you to feel worried or perhaps even on the verge of a panic attack?

What can calm your nerves is asking yourself a series of questions that challenge the legitimacy and perspective of these troubling thoughts – this process is called Socratic questioning. Named after Socrates, the influential Greek philosopher who was known for asking questions of others to refine their thinking and get closer to the truth, it is a common technique that therapists teach patients in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Restructuring the way you think is important because “your thoughts have a strong influence on your emotions because you believe in the thoughts, rather than that they are necessarily true,” said Dr. Daniel R. Strunk, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, via email.

“So when we allow ourselves to believe troubling things that aren’t entirely true, it makes our emotional lives more difficult,” he added.

Although Socratic questioning is a tool used in cognitive behavioral therapy, you don’t have to have a therapist to practice it and benefit from it – but a professional can be helpful in dealing with problems and achieving goals in a way , which is difficult for many people to cope with alone, said Dr. James Overholser, a clinical psychologist and professor of depression and suicide at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, via email.

Here’s how to go through some questions commonly used in the Socratic method. The questions and wording may vary depending on the resource, therapist or patient experience, experts said, but the goal is the same.

Work through your personal perceptions

The lesson of Socratic questioning does not suggest that emotional distress is only or always the result of an inaccurate perspective – according to Strunk, this bias can only compound and contribute to stress.

Individual subjectivity is the reason that two people facing the same challenge may have different emotional experiences and reactions – one may feel negative and defeated, while the other may view the situation as an opportunity for personal growth or showing perceives grace.

If you want to apply Socratic questioning to troubling thoughts or beliefs, start by writing the thought down.

Maybe you’re worried that you’ll embarrass yourself or somehow fail in your upcoming presentation at work.

To better understand the thought and its underlying beliefs, ask yourself what is so troubling about the scenario, Strunk said. Maybe you think people will think you’re incompetent or that you’ll get fired.

Then consider the first question: What evidence speaks for or against this idea?

Research has shown that people with mental health problems typically have certain biases and inaccuracies in their thinking, Strunk said — people with depression, for example, may perceive events in an overly negative way, while people with anxiety often view threats as more likely and more catastrophic than they actually would be.

“In cognitive behavioral therapy, clients learn that their thoughts are very important during times of strong emotions,” Strunk said. “By learning to recognize and carefully examine these thoughts, clients learn a very important coping strategy for dealing with negative emotions: accurately assessing their situation rather than unquestioningly accepting their initial beliefs in the heat of the moment.”

Think about how many times people have been fired because of poor presentations. You might think about what positive feedback your boss or colleagues have given in the past about your contributions or how they responded to your mistakes.

You might say to yourself, “My colleagues know that I make a positive contribution to work in many ways.” I received a good performance review last quarter and Sally thanked me for helping her so much last week Jones account,” Strunk said. “It helps to be specific and make a strong argument. You want to look for evidence that will convince you, even when you are most drawn into your negative views.”

Adjust your perspective

Second, ask yourself if there is an alternative way of looking at the situation.

“Attitude is important in influencing our emotions and behavior,” Overholser said. “We interpret situations, we have expectations for the future and we have personal views about ourselves and our abilities. All of these cognitive factors are central to most aspects of our lives.”

In this case, you may remember that it is normal, even for experienced speakers, to be nervous before a presentation and the possibility of being evaluated by others.

Additionally, what would you say to a loved one who came to you with the same thought?

“You might say something like, ‘They know you’re a good employee for them – and they really value your work.’ Many people worry about presentations. “You’ll do better than you think,” Strunk said.

By controlling your views, Strunk says, you can often suppress the severity of your emotional reactions and then deal with difficulties better.

Practice Socratic questions regularly

Other common Socratic questions may include the following, but some may be tailored to a patient’s experience:

  • Am I basing this thought on facts or feelings?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions or resorting to the worst-case scenario?
  • Could I be misinterpreting the evidence? Am I making any assumptions?
  • If I look at this situation more positively, what’s the difference?
  • Will this matter in a year? In five years?

Could other people interpret this situation differently?

The therapist resource site Therapist Aid has a free printable with 10 Socratic questions to help you challenge irrational thoughts. Another way to learn more about the approach is to read the book “Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky, recommended by Strunk.

Practicing the questions can also help you become more mindful overall if you stick with it consistently.

“I would encourage people who want to learn to reevaluate their thoughts to experiment with different questions,” Strunk said. “You may find that some are particularly effective for you.”

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