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Is Menopause Causing Cognitive Distortion?

I’m just finishing my diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and I have been studying about cognitive distortions. I recognise so many issues in myself and our members that are apparent as we go through the menopause. It’s really got me thinking about how menopause affects the way our brain works and can we re-programme it with alternative thoughts once we recognise these cognitive distortions?

What is a Cognitive Distortion?

Cognitive distortions are exactly what the name implies – distortions in our cognition, the way we think. These are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time. I have found the way I think has changed as I’m going through this menopause journey, what about you? How many of these cognitive distortions can you recognise in yourself?

1) Filtering

This is when you focus on the negative all the time and filter out the positive. How much of the time do you find yourself only seeing the negative?

2) Polarised Thinking

This is where you see everything as amazing or awful and there’s no in between. So, if you aren’t perfect at something you see yourself as a failure. This is common when it comes to sticking to a diet or trying to eat healthily, one mistake and you’ve failed and self-sabotage often follows.

3) Overgeneralisation

Overgeneralisation is when you make broad statements with little evidence. One single negative event can lead us into a pattern of defeat that things will always be like this.

4) Mind Reading

Assuming you know what other people are thinking or feeling. I do this with my husband all the time. I sometimes feel he must be thinking, “not another symptom”, it’s what I think all the time. But when I’ve spoken to him in detail about my menopause journey he’s really supportive and he’s actually been thinking, “wow, what a lot to deal with”.

5) Catastrophising

This is definitely my worst one and it never used to be something I struggled with. This is where you assume the worst case scenario. I find myself assuming the worst in so many situations and it can feel exhausting.

6) Magnifying

This is where we magnify the things we’re struggling with and minimise the positives.

7) Personalisation

Paranoia has been spoken a lot about within our membership group, personalisation is when you assume others behaviours is about you and you are constantly comparing yourself to others. You blame yourself for things even though they are not your fault.

8) Should Statements

You try and motivate yourself with should’s and shouldn’ts or musts and oughts. This often comes out as illogical rules for our own or others behaviour.

9) Predictions

We anticipate how things will turn out and that they will turn out badly. You consider this as already fact and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do you recognise any of these ways of thinking?

As we go through this journey both our hormones and the effects of our symptoms can have a huge impact on the way we think. This can leave us feeling isolated and like we’re not ourselves any more. So many women have said “I just want to feel like the old me!”

So when these thoughts happen what can we do?

Once we identify a cognitive distortion we need to look for alternative thoughts.

Alternative Thoughts

1) Filtering

Focus on the opposite of the negative thought. For example, if you fear your husband is going to get fed up and leave, thing about all the good things you do for him and all the great times you’ve had together

2) Polarised Thinking

Challenge the black and white thinking – try and think on percentages. If you have a bad day eating wise, see it as just that, a bad day. “I have eaten well 80% of this week.”

3) Overgeneralisation

Quantify things and remove absolutes and negative labels. Avoid words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘massive’ etc. Change “I always feel awful” to “I have good days and bad days”

4) Mind Reading

Identify conclusive evidence – what evidence is there for your conclusions? – are there alternative explanations? This is the time to reframe interpretations – you can’t really know what someone else is thinking unless they communicate it to you.

5) Catastrophising

Assess the odds – how likely is it that the worst will happen? How likely is it that things will actually work out positively?

6) Magnifying

Get things in proportion, there’s no need to magnify or minimise things. It’s important to change your language, for example, from “I feel awful” to “I can cope.”

7) Personalisation

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – comparison is unhelpful. You need to challenge if others behaviour is really because of you.

8) Should Statements

Here it’s important to develop flexible rules – remember values are personal and we should be flexible with our expectations.

9) Predictions

Focus on your performance based on effort and persistence. Rather than “I can’t run” change to “I may not be as good at running as others but I can do better if I keep practising.”

Our brains are so powerful but it can be hard to manage them through the menopause journey we are all going through. Take time to recognise your thoughts and question if you need to change them.

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