I sometimes kid with my patients by using some clinical term and then saying, "I just said that to make you think I'm educated." I do have a little education under my belt, but I've learned in the decades since graduate school that being educated and being wise are not the same thing.
Still, a little education doesn't hurt. In the course of my education I've learned about things like "cognitive distortions." (The word "cognitive" refers to how a person thinks, not unrelated to the phrase "I need to cogitate on that.")
Understanding cognitive distortions may help us think in healthier ways about the coronavirus pandemic. Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that we develop from our earliest years of life that cause us to see reality in a distorted way. They are so much a part of us that we usually don't realize we're using them.
One of these is "mental filter." A person who does this filters out positive aspects of life and considers only the negative. Most of us have known people who are always negative, as if they enjoy being unhappy. Truth is, they probably don't know any better. It's ingrained in how they think.
It's tempting in the midst of the pandemic to focus only on the negative. It seems that we only hear negativity on the news and people seem to be quicker to talk about unpleasant things than pleasant things. I'm tempted to say this is just human nature, but I've known people who aren't like this. I hope I'm one of them.
Another cognitive distortion is "fortunetelling." People who have problems with anxiety will often do this. Essentially fortunetelling involves predicting an unpleasant future and then using that prediction to make the present miserable. There's a common term that's related to this: worrying.
There's something I tell myself that counterbalances any tendency to use a mental filter or do fortunetelling: "I've been through tough times before, and the fact that I'm doing okay right now tells me I made it through them. I'll make it through this one as well."
Humans are resilient. We'll get through this. Life will eventually find its way back to something akin to normal. The question is, what shape will we be in when we get there? That will be determined by how we think about things now.
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