Do you feel stressed or sad? 

In 2015 the American Psychological Association reported an increase in adults that reported extreme stress from 18% to 24% in 2015. With the rising levels of stress and mental health problems it has become increasingly important to learn how to deal with mental health issues. 


Do you feel stressed or sad?

In 2015 the American Psychological Association reported an increase in adults that reported extreme stress from 18% to 24% in 2015. With the rising levels of stress and mental health problems it has become increasingly important to learn how to deal with mental health issues.


The 3 Principles

According to the cognitive psychologist, and the author of Feeling Good, David Burns, the root of many of our mood and other mental health problems are our negative distorted thoughts. Therefore, he argues that we can improve our mental health and mood by fighting our negative thoughts. His approach to solving mental health problems is based on three principles:

  1.  The first principle is that “all your moods are created by your “cognitions,” or thoughts.” Therefore any emotion, positive or negative, can be traced back to a positive or negative thought.

The moment you have a certain thought and believe it, you will experience an immediate emotional response. Your thought actually creates the emotion.” – Feeling Good

  1. The second principle is that when you are feeling down most of your thoughts are negative. Therefore the negative thoughts make you feel sad.
  1. The third principle is that the negative thoughts that cause emotional pain almost always are distorted.

As a result, by identifying the negative thoughts that make us sad we can identify the distortions in the thoughts and eliminate them. This will result in a more positive mood.


Identify your thoughts

The first step in improving your mood would be to identify the corresponding negative thought that you had just before you felt down.

Ex. Just before an exam you might feel depressed because of a thought like “I did bad on my last exam, therefore I will also mess up on this exam and I will fail the exam.”


Identify your mental distortions

The second step in improving your mood would be to identify the distortions in your negative thoughts.

There are 10 main distortions that David Burns describes in his book.

Distortion Explanation 
All- or –Nothing Thinking You think in terms of black and white if something isn’t perfect then it’s bad.
Mental Filter You filter out the good and focus only on the bad.
Disqualifying the Positive You dismiss positive thoughts and things by saying they don’t matter or they don’t count.
Jumping to Conclusion You assume either something bad is going to happen and take your negative belief as a fact. You think that you can read the other person’s mind and that the other person has a negative view of you.
Magnification or Minimization You magnify the impact and importance of negative things and minimize the importance of positive things.
Emotional Reasoning You believe that because you feel a certain way, that things, in reality, are that way. Ex. “I have a bad life because I feel sad.”
Should Statements You tell yourself that you should have done things differently, or that things should/shouldn’t have been different. This piles up feelings of shame and guilt in you.
Overgeneralization You believe everything will be bad if you see one thing as bad.
Labeling and Mislabeling You overgeneralize and attach a negative label to yourself. Ex. “I’m a loser.”
Personalization You blame yourself and consider yourself responsible for negative things outside of your control.


Arguing your mental thoughts

The third step in improving your mood is to argue against the negative thoughts and learning that the negative thoughts are distorted and false.

Here are examples of arguing negative thoughts:

Thoughts Distortion Rational Response
I got a bad test result, so I will never do well on my test. Overgeneralization Although I didn’t do well on this particular test it doesn’t mean that I will never do well.
I am a stupid loser! Labelling Making a stupid mistake does not mean I am stupid. One single bad event in my life cannot define who I am.
I am late to the party so my friends will think I’m lazy Mind reading, Labelling Although I’m late to the event, I can’t read my friend’s minds and they won’t judge based on one event.


By continuing to identify negative thoughts throughout the day and arguing with them there should be a decrease in the occurrences of negative thoughts and as a result a decrease in negative mood.


For one day try to identify the negative thoughts that pop up in your mind whenever you feel sad or irritated. Then try to argue against them.


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How to be an Optimist

Hopefulness and confidence about the future is called Optimism. It is a quality that that brings has benefits such as increasing altruism, increasing our ability to postpone gratification, increase humor. Optimism has also been proven to be a great indicator of future happiness and success.

 “To see if optimism predicts longevity, scientists at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, selected 839 consecutive patients who referred themselves for medical care forty years ago… Of these patients, 200 had died by 2000, and optimists had 19 percent greater longevity, in terms of their expected life span, compared to that of pessimists” – Authentic Happiness


The Key to Becoming an Optimist

In the book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes how we can become happier about our future by being optimistic. According to Seligman we can become more happy and optimistic by

Recognizing and disputing our pessimistic thoughts.


Defeating Pessimistic Thoughts

We must first recognize our pessimistic thoughts when they occur and then argue them. Recognizing pessimistic thoughts might take some effort at first but it can be done if we try to be aware of the thoughts that cross our minds.

In order to dispute our negative pessimistic thoughts we can use the ABCDE model.



Beliefs we have when the adversity occurs

Casual consequence of the belief

Dispute routine belief

Energization occurs after we dispute our belief


Here is an example of disputing a pessimistic thought:



I did bad on a test and now I think I might have to drop out.


I’m incompetent and not intelligent to get through university.


I feel anxious and depressed. I feel sad and I start skipping classes.


I may have got a bad mark on one test but I have done good on many other tests. I may have done bad because I didn’t study enough. If I study more I can get better grades.


I feel better about myself. I feel more motivated to study and work on my academic goals.


Leading an Optimistic Life

In our lives, we will encounter many pessimistic thoughts that will bring us down. We will think up many exaggerated lies and end up believing them. If we do not fight these negative thoughts, they can sabotage our lives.

To be an optimist means to see obstacles as challenges that we can overcome. Being an optimist has many proven benefits, and we can be more optimistic if we recognize and dispute the negative thoughts.

So the next time you think you’re not strong, or good enough to face your problems identify the negative belief that is pulling you down. Then take a minute to think through the problem using the ABCDE method and dispute the belief that is holding you back. This can lead you to becoming an optimist and living a better life.

Read Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman to learn more about optimism and happiness