If you hear a loud noise in the middle of the night, a vase crashing, what do you think happened? Do you think burglar? Or cat? One interpretation leads to one emotion (fear) while the other makes another (irritation, or relief if you started with “burglar”) more likely.
Many situations in life are ambiguous, and your interpretations or appraisals impact the feelings that arise.
Many studies have demonstrated that people who struggle with anxiety have a cognitive bias or a tendency to interpret events negatively. That not only effects feelings, but often behavior too. Imagine seeing someone at a party and she looks away. If you interpret that moment as “She thinks I’m boring and doesn’t want to talk” you may walk away and miss the opportunity to make a connection. If, on the other hand, you consider “She might be shy” or “She hasn’t spotted me yet” you might feel more neutral and be more likely to move toward her to initiate a conversation.
There are many ways to work with these pesky thoughts that arise. One is through Cognitive Bias Modification programs. One I highly recommend comes out of the University of Virginia’s Psychology Program. They’re testing a new version that is informed by the 10 years of research that’s gone into this approach so far.
Check it out here.