Category Archives: Cognitive behavioural therapy

How to decatastrophise

 

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How to decatastrophise

We’ve all been there – something triggers us and we end up catastrophising and imagining the absolute worst case scenario. We make mountains out of molehills. Try out the techniques in this blog post to decatastrophise and get back to normality. One thought can sometimes spiral out of control and before we know it we have become homeless, bankrupt, single /and/or have imagined ourselves on our deathbed. Learn to deal with anxiety and stress in a calmer way and enjoy a less stressful life.

Steps to decatastrophise

Specify the catastrophic consequence clearly:

This has to be as specific as possible. “What if something bad happens?” is too vague.

Here are a few good examples:

What if my health never gets better?

What if my partner leaves me?

Losing my job

Change any “what if” statements into concrete declarations of fact:

Examples: My health will never get better

My partner will leave me

I will lose my job

Challenge the truth/validity of your statement:

Ask yourself if anything bad has ever happened before. Ask yourself how often this might happen or whether it is very likely to happen. Also ask yourself whether there is any clear evidence to suggest that your worry will come true.

Ask yourself what a friend might say if you told them about your worry. Are there any reasons to doubt your worry coming true?

Examples: My health is bad right now but I have been ill before and improved. The doctor said I had a good prognosis.

My relationship is going through a rough patch but that doesn’t mean my partner is thinking of leaving me. My partner has given me no indication that they might leave me.

I might be performing worse at work but losing my job is a big jump. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions. There is no evidence that I am about to be fired.

Come up with three positive alternative statements:

My health will probably get better. I’m at my worst now – even if I don’t fully recover I’m likely to get better than I am now.

My relationship will survive this tricky patch

My job will still be there tomorrow

Remember that thoughts are not facts and there are times when we allow our thoughts to get the better of us and cause us great distress. Use the above exercise to restore calm to your mind and see things from a different perspective.

Mandy X

 

 

Accept anxiety as a part of life

 

accept anxiety

Accept anxiety as a part of life

Anxiety is a part of life unfortunately, yet we all furiously engage in behaviours to try avoid anxiety as much as possible. When you accept anxiety as a part of life it actually becomes easier to manage.

If you are not willing to experience anxiety, you will definitely have anxiety!

When you accept anxiety as something that will always be there, you can then learn ways to deal with it more effectively. Anxiety can be managed but it can’t be removed completely.

Anxiety is caused by two things:

  1. The fact that we overestimate the threat. This could be fear of rejection, humiliation or failure. It could also be fear of losing someone or experiencing shame. There are numerous triggers around us and the more we try to avoid them, the more anxious we become.
  2. The fact that we underestimate our ability to cope. We often cope far better than we anticipate bit the more we avoid situations that might cause anxiety, the fewer opportunities we have to test out our beliefs.

Tips for managing anxiety

Know the difference between a real problem (the car has broken down) and a hypothetical problem. This is a “what if” problem that might never happen. Learn to spend less time agonising over “what if” type problems. Find a solution if possible but then ‘mentally shelve’ the worry.

Don’t spend time overthinking. If you can do something that is solution focused to help towards solving the problem/worry, do it. If you can’t, learn to distract yourself. Count backwards from 100 or do something else but don’t waste mental energy by allowing a problem to go round and round in your mind.

Learn to let thoughts pass without focusing on them. We have between 40 000 – 60 000 thoughts per day. Visualise thoughts as leaves flowing on a river, let the ones that aren’t useful pass by. It is possible to learn to focus your attention on the thoughts that are helpful rather than unhelpful. Examples of unhelpful thoughts: I will never be able to cope. I am useless. It will never work etc

If you really cannot focus elsewhere, try implementing ‘worry time’ Give yourself 30 minutes per day to worry and for the rest of the day, do your best to distract yourself and keep busy.

Ask yourself: what would I tell a friend in this situation? Am I exaggerating the threat? Is there another way to look at this that makes me feel less anxious? (there is always another way to look at something).

Learn mindfulness – be in the moment more rather than living in your head. TO bring yourself back to the present moment, try this:

Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch, 1 thing you can taste. The more you engage your 5 senses, the less time your brain has to wander off to your worries.

Anxiety is the body’s way of telling us we are in danger but often the body sends us false alarms. We may feel physical sensations related to anxiety – sweaty palms, heart palpitations etc but tell yourself quietly that you are safe and that you are not in danger.

Try deep breathing to calm yourself and tell yourself “this will pass”.

Make anxiety your friend as much as possible. See it as an early warning system that can prepare you and make you ready for action.

Mandy X

 

Thoughts on core beliefs

 

core beliefs

Thoughts on core beliefs

We all look at the world differently but it is easy to believe that others see things the same way we do. Two people can have the same experience but come away from that with a very different reaction/thought process. We all interpret the world differently according to our upbringings, genetics and past experiences.

Core beliefs are deeply held beliefs that can be hard to shake. Often, they are dysfunctional and inaccurate. For example – someone who was constantly told as a child that they are worthless will most likely internalise that and make that part of their identity, believing themselves to be worthless. Think of core beliefs like a pair of sunglasses – a kind of filter that we see the world through. We are more atuned to pick up on things around us that confirm our core beliefs and will reject or not notice things that don’t confirm our core beliefs. Events that happen that prove a person isn’t worthless may be dismissed as it doesn’t fit. This is how core beliefs can limit us unnecessarily.

How core beliefs can limit us:

Situation: You meet a new person and think about asking them to go for coffee.

Core belief – I’m not worthy = Consequence: Why would they go out with me? Don’t ask them for coffee

Core belief – I am worthy = Consequence: We might have fun if we go out together. Asks the person to go for coffee.

Many people have negative core beliefs that cause harmful consequences and limit their opportunities. They hold on to self limiting beliefs without realising it.

To begin challenging your core beliefs, you first need to identify what they are. Here are some common examples:

I am unworthy; I am  unloveable; I am unworthy; I’m ugly; I’m undeserving; I’m a bad person; I’m stupid…

What is one of your core beliefs? _______________________

List three pieces of evidence contrary to your belief_____________

Beliefs can be changed, that’s the good news. Some beliefs are old, outdated and just not true. Do a stock-take on your core beliefs and make sure you have core beliefs that support and empower you.

Mandy X

Your own worst enemy

 

 

worst enemy

Your own worst enemy

Being self critical definitely makes you your own worst enemy. Finding fault with ourselves and self loathing defies all logic. We are given the raw materials to work with when we are born and although we can improve ourselves to a point, there is no escaping our biology. Despite this fact, we all seem to make a habit of rejecting ourselves and comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. What a complete waste of time!

Think about it…why wouldn’t you want to get as comfortable with yourself as possible? We’re stuck with the body we are born into so it makes sense to spend effort on liking ourselves and working with what we’ve been given. I especially loathed myself in my teens and early twenties. I was extremely self conscious and hate just about everything about myself – the way I looked, the way I behaved…there was very little self love and acceptance going on back then.

It has taken me many years to begin to feel comfortable in my own skin and I know I am not alone in this. I find it a sad state of affairs though and if I could go back and give my younger self a wise message, it would be to appreciate my youth more and focus on my strengths instead of always looking at my perceived weaknesses. We seem to only appreciate things once we no longer have them. I regularly see pictures of my younger self and can see now that I looked pretty good yet at the time, I can remember feeling inadequate, fat and ugly.

Do yourself a favour and make friends with yourself. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Learn to love all that is unique about you, no matter how weird or different. Celebrate who you are and maximise what you have with appreciation rather than self criticism. You will be amazed at how much happier and at peace you will begin to feel.

Mandy X

Perception vs reality

 

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Perception vs reality

Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.

We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.

When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.

We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.

Mandy X

PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.

How to challenge uncertainty

 

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How to challenge uncertainty

Knowing how to challenge uncertainty is a real skill considering that we live in a world that is inherently uncertain. Nothing will ever change the fact that life is uncertain, so it pays to find way to accept and manage uncertainty rather than trying to resist it. Resisting uncertainty is futile and will only leave you exhausted.

So, how can we learn to manage uncertainty better? Acceptance is a good start. Find a way to see uncertainty as an integral part of your life – get used to liking the idea of surprises and the unpredictable by managing how you perceive it. I like to try think of life as an adventure. A mad rollercoaster that we are all on, that dips and turns and has us screaming for mercy every now and then. Due to the fact that we cannot be certain about everything in life, ask yourself what the advantages and disadvantages are of requiring certainty. In other words, how has needing certainty been helpful to you? How has needing certainty been unhelpful to you?

Do you tend to predict that something bad will happen just because you are uncertain? This isn’t a reasonable thing to do as it is just as likely that the situation could be neutral or positive.

Often, the things that we predict never happen anyway. Keep perspective and remember that no one can predict the future.  We can have a rough idea but we may never know for sure so be careful that you are not ‘torturing’ yourself unnecessarily with negative thoughts.

Are there some uncertainties in life that you can live with? The longer your list is for this question, the happier you will be in life. Learn to be psychologically flexible and to believe that you will find a way to cope with whatever is thrown your way.

Uncertainty can be a good thing and when you embrace the idea of uncertainty and work at strengthening your belief in your ability to cope, you will find that you are less anxious about the unknown.

Mandy X

Strategies for worry

 

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Strategies for worry

We all worry too much and strategies for worry can be a useful ‘tool’ to help you navigate life a little better. Always remember that thoughts aren’t facts and get into the habit of regularly challenging your thinking – you may be way off the mark and upsetting yourself unnecessarily.

Notice the worrisome thoughts and try to figure out what it is that you are worrying about.

Ask yourself: “Is this worry about a current problem or is it a hypothetical situation? (a ‘what if’ situation that hasn’t happened and may never happen).

Can I do something about this?

If the answer is NO, let the worry go!

Distract yourself, find something else to do.

If the answer is YES, draw up an action plan – what/when/how. Decide whether something can be done right now or later on. If it can be done now – get on and do it! Once you have actioned the worry, learn to ‘mentally shelve’ the issue. Get on with something else until you can again do something about the worry (perhaps after someone else has responded to you, for example).

If something can be done at a later stage, schedule it and then let the worry go. Don’t allow worries to hang around and fester. That’s when we get stuck in a worry spiral and end up thinking about things that often far worse than the reality!

Make sure you deal with worries and look for solutions. Thoughts that just go around and around in your head without any type of active resolution to them will drive you crazy in the end. Learn to manage your thoughts instead of allowing them to manage you.

Mandy X

 

The cycle of anxiety

 

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The cycle of anxiety

We all worry about things that threaten us but often we overestimate the threat and fear it more than we need to. When we feel the fear, we assume we won’t be able to cope with the threat. Many times we are wrong and this is what we need to focus on when we feel anxious.

If we feel anxious, it seems logical to do things to reduce that anxiety. Avoiding a situation is one way that we can avoid anxiety. It will certainly decrease anxiety initially but it only works on the short term and actually makes anxiety worse in the long run as we become more fearful of the world around us. The more we avoid, the more the fear grows and when we avoid situations we fear, we never learn the skills to cope and show ourselves that we cope better than we thought we would. We never get to test out our predictions when we avoid things. Stop avoiding and start approaching.

These things that we do to reduce our anxiety are known as safety behaviours. We do them to feel safe. Again – they only work for  a short while.

Examples of safety behaviours: avoidance, withdrawal, overthinking, over-eating, being excessively tidy, people pleasing, being too busy, etc

Reversing the cycle of anxiety

Gradually begin confronting scary situations.This will lead to improved confidence. Start with small steps and work your way up to situations that create the most anxiety. Keep repeating the behaviour – you need to keep putting yourself into situations that you fear in order to overcome them. Anxiety is a feeling that needs to be managed and unfortunately, it will probably be a constant companion to a certain degree. It’s when anxiety becomes unmanageable and interferes significantly with everyday functioning that it really needs to be addressed professionally – by a therapy or counsellor.

Accept that a certain amount of anxiety is normal for all of us and it is the body’s way of preparing us for action. It can be a good thing so learn to accept and manage your anxiety rather than fear it.

Mandy X