Cognitive distortions are errors in the way we process information. We all are prone to these thinking errors some of the time. People who experience higher levels of stress experience more cognitive distortions more of the time. Here are 6 of the most common cognitive distortions experienced by people who experience stress-related symptoms.

Review the list and see if you find yourself thinking along these lines.

Shoulds/Perfectionism – criticizing oneself or others for not being good enough

Polarized Thinking (all or nothing) – looking at things in absolute black and white categories

Magnification – blowing things out of proportion

Over-Generalization – a negative event becomes a never-ending pattern of defeat

Fallacy of Fairness – expectation that justice is distributed fairly

Fallacy of Change – expectation that others have to change (and you can cajole them into it) so you can be happy

If you have stress-related symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal symptoms, high blood pressure, sleeping difficulties, etc., you may also be experiencing some of these problematic patterns of thinking. Your therapist can help you learn techniques to manage them. In addition, David Burns has written several self help books available at

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist