Mental Filters and Panic Disorder

Conquer Your Negative Thinking and Perceptions by Reframing

How do mental filters, a type of cognitive distortion, contribute to the negative thought patterns common in panic disorder? How can you change your perception of situations through reframing in order to develop a more realistic, and positive attitude?

Definition - Mental Filters

Mental filters can contribute to panic and anxiety.
Mental filters make you only see the negatives in life. Photo © Microsoft

Mental filter is a term used to describe one type of cognitive distortion, or faulty thought pattern, that can often lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression. When thinking through a mental filter, a person is focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive ones. People with this form of negative thinking often see their glass as being half empty rather than half full in any situation.

People diagnosed with panic disorder frequently use a mental filter to sift out all of the pleasant and fulfilling parts of their lives, while bringing more attention to their inadequacies and dissatisfaction. They may center on their feelings of loneliness and avoidance behaviors, failing to notice ways in which they have actually learned to cope with panic disorder. Anxiety levels will continue to rise as positivity continues to be filtered out, while the self-defeating thoughts are intensified.      

Below are a few examples of using this type of negative thinking pattern. As you think about these examples, see if you recognize your own way of thinking in these situations. If you do find yourself in these stories, learn how to reframe your mental filters to more positive thoughts and ideas.

Examples of Mental Filters

Edmond - Edmond is an expert in his field and was asked to present a one-day workshop at a local college. During his presentation, he notices that a student walks out and never returns. After class, many students come up to him to thank him for his valuable presentation. However, Edmond drives home feeling angry at the one student who left. Edmond also keeps anxiously self-doubting his own work, wondering if the student would have stayed if his lecture had been more interesting.

Amy - Amy has long struggled with major depressive disorder and anxiety. Through psychotherapy, she has started to learn how to forgive those that have hurt her in her past. By forgiving her mother, Amy had developed a closer relationship with her and had even started to trust her more. One day Amy opened up to her mother about her diagnosis of depression. To Amy’s surprise, her mother responded less compassionately than Amy had expected. Amy became infuriated and determined that she never should have forgiven her in the first place. Her mother apologized for the misunderstanding, but Amy refused to talk to her. Amy now feels that therapy was a waste of her time.    

Using Reframing to Overcome Mental Filters and Negative Thinking

Edmond - Edmond is so upset about the student who left that he cannot even acknowledge and absorb the compliments he received. He could reframe his situation by focusing more on all of the positive feedback that came from other students. Instead of filtering in self-defeating thoughts, Edmond can choose to focus on the good in the situation. He can recognize that it is possible that not everyone enjoyed his lecture, but that many students benefited from it. He may even be able to realize that in any lecture situation there are bound to be some people who are not appreciative, and give himself a pat on the back that, statistically, he had an excellent response to his lecture.

Amy - Amy is failing to see the positive aspects of her relationship with her mother—by only focusing on the negative. Amy worked up the courage and strength to forgive her mother and develop a relationship with her again. However, she is upset that her mother didn’t respond to her the way she wanted her to. If Amy recognizes this mental filter, she may be able to see things in a more balanced way. Amy can then recognize that her mother may not act the way she wants her to, but that this does not mean that Amy’s gains through therapy were useless.

Bottom Line on Mental Filters and Reframing

Only seeing the downside of a situation can be a crippling cognitive distortion for people with anxiety disorders. We have a choice to take notice of only the negative or to also see the silver lining in any given situation. In order to conquer this form of negative thinking, make an effort to match every negative thought about a situation with a positive one. After you've finished doing this, you may even wish to try finding silver linings in those situations in which there are truly more negatives!

How to Reframe Negative Thoughts

Having given these examples of using reframing to deal with mental filters, important to quickly define what we mean by reframing. Reframing is a technique for changing your way of experiencing something. A situation does not change, but the way in which you perceive the situation changes.

Most situations in our lives can be looked at in more than one way. An example may be a young woman going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, a treatment which causes loss of all hair on the body. You could look at this situation in one way and become totally depressed about losing your beautiful hair. Or instead, you could look at it in another way. You won't have to shave your legs for six months! This example is more extreme than many (yes, it's pushing it) but serves as a reminder that sometimes with reframing you will need to "fake it till you make it." You may need to focus hard on your reframed thought for it to outweigh your negative thought, but studies tell us this actually works.

After finishing this article and considering the ways in which both Edmond and Amy used reframing to address this type of cognitive distortion, you may wish to review some of the ways in which you can use reframing to lessen stress including looking for what you can change, and finding humor.

It is possible to change your perception of a situation, and use reframing to overcome the faulty thought pattern produced by mental filters.

Sources:

Caouette, J., and A. Guyer. Cognitive Distortions Mediate Depression and Affective Response to Social Acceptance and Rejection. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2016. 190:792-9.

Rnic, K., Dozois, D., and R. Martin. Cognitive Distortions, Humor Styles, and Depression. European Journal of Psychology. 2016. 12(3):348-362.

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