Cognitive Distortions: How to Avoid Spiraling

We’ve all been get one piece of bad news and all of the sudden you find yourself at the bottom of a mental pit having spiraled down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts. Spiraling is a common experience and is rooted in a concept called “cognitive distortions”. Let’s explore this concept a bit more and discover how to avoid spiraling.

Cognitive Distortions:
Habitual ways of thinking that are often inaccurate and negatively biased and can lead to the feeling of spiraling out of control.

3 Common Types of Distortions:

  1. Polarizing - This type of thinking is very “black and white” and causes individuals to habitually think in extremes. This type of distorted thinking is not helpful or healthy because most of life exists in the gray.

  2. Overgeneralization - This occurs when individuals come to a general conclusion based on a single incident and apply that conclusion to all future events. For example: someone may have a negative experience in a relationship and then decide that they are just not good at relationships at all and should stop dating altogether.

  3. Catastrophizing - This is probably what we are all most familiar with when it comes to a thought pattern that causes spiraling. Catastrophizing occurs when we quickly assume the worst and that catastrophe escalates quickly and illogically. For example: Someone may worry they’ll fail an exam and from there they may simply assume that they will fail which means they’ll fail out of all school and will be unable to get a job and take care of their future family.

How to Avoid Spiraling:

  1. Identify - Based on what you’ve learned above, try to identify the type of cognitive distortion you are experiencing and name it.

  2. Reframe - Write down your original thought (the one that got you spiraling) then try to reframe it by finding alternative explanations, objective evidence, or positive interpretations to expand your thinking.

  3. Express - Share your thoughts with a trusted friend or therapist and ask for their unique perspective.

It can be very hard to stop spiraling once it begins and it’s even harder to do so alone. If you find yourself spiraling often and need a helping hand to pull you out, I’d love to connect. You can email me at or call my office at (310) 614-0323 to set up a time to talk.