Tag Archives: CBT

What are safety behaviours?

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Photo by UltraSlo1

What are safety behaviours?

We all engage in safety behaviours to differing degrees. A safety behaviour is something we do to provide us relief from anxiety. The problem with safety behaviours is that they only work temporarily and our attempts to self soothe end up becoming a repetitive pattern. The safety behaviour inadvertently ends up prolonging the anxiety.

For example: For someone who finds being in social situations anxiety provoking, they might avoid a social situation altogether. This helps them avoid the anxiety but doesn’t deal with the underlying fear. The threat of social situations stays unchallenged. So the avoidance is the safety behaviour but the anxiety will always be there when faced with a social situation. The anxiety of social situations will remain.

Another example of a safety behaviour: Someone who is insecure in a relationship might constantly check up on their partner by texting and phoning their partner. Initially, once they have checked on their partner, they might feel better…but only until the next thing triggers their anxiety and they need to check again. The need to check will not go away and in this way the anxiety is maintained.

The idea is to reduce safety behaviours, ‘sit’ with the anxiety and realise you can cope without the safety behaviour. This is the correct way to reduce non-productive safety behaviours.

Learning to challenge the threat with using a safety behaviours allows us to learn how to cope with the anxiety. Do what you fear – that’s the basic premise.

Be aware of what you do to reduce your anxiety…do you check your phone constantly? Do you avoid situations you fear? Work at approaching your fears and learning to deal with them. This will improve confidence and help you to be more resilient.

Mandy X

 

Give Depression the Bird

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Give Depression the Bird

Let’s get one thing straight. Depression is real. It is not something to be trivialized, snapped out of, or sucked up. In fact, trying to do this often makes it worse. I know, because I’ve been there. I would have loved to have been able to give myself a shake and a rueful smile and reset my mind. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just instantly be happy? Like those heat packs you snap, shake and they heat up? Super cool. And totally ridiculous.

Depression appears in many ways, shapes and forms, and no two people get it exactly the same. Not only does this make it hard to treat, it makes it hard for people to understand. It can’t be put in a box like other illnesses and diseases. There are symptoms, but responses to those symptoms vary. It isn’t a disease, so medication doesn’t work as well as we wished it would, although it does work well for a lot of people.

Not only is depression very real, but it is incredibly misunderstood, and surrounded by an almost palpable stigma. People who have depression are labelled. Crazy, lazy, not trying hard enough, weak. It doesn’t matter if the people wielding these words are trying to help or not, they are all labels, and they are stopping people reaching out for the help they need.

The very way we think about, and react to depression needs to change. And it needs to change fast!

When you think of depression what picture springs to mind? I see a girl curled into a foetal position in a darkened room, sobbing. And this picture is what I thought people with depression did all the time. I was so incredibly wrong.

Last year my husband gave me an ultimatum. Be happier or go and talk to someone. And by someone he meant one of those freaky head shrinking people…

I know that sounds harsh, but he was trying to make me see what he did. You see, up until that point I was convinced I was fine. Tired, but fine. I wasn’t crazy. And I couldn’t have depression! Everything I knew about depression said you had to be constantly sad, crying on the sofa, or suicidal, and I was none of those things. Oh I cried a lot, but more often I was irritable and cranky. (Did you know that was a sign of depression? Me neither)! So the couple of times ‘depression’ crossed my mind I quickly dismissed it.

Was I tired? Absolutely! Sad? Frequently. Did I feel like I wasn’t achieving much even when to others I was doing incredibly well? Only every day. But I wasn’t depressed! Heck no. Depression was for weak people. For people who had suffered massive loss or pain in their lives. For people with a rough childhood, or adulthood. I hadn’t had any of that. I grew up in a loving family. I have an amazing husband and a healthy, happy (albeit very stubborn) child, and I have had a relatively pain free life. And yet the more I looked at it, the more I realised the truth.

I was depressed. And I had been for quite a long time.

During a discussion (on why I couldn’t possibly have depression), my husband told me I seemed to be sad from the minute I woke up, till the minute I went to bed. It took me a while to process that. I couldn’t imagine what living with that must have been like. And that was the moment. Right there. That was the moment I decided I was going to be happy. Whatever it took.

I started researching depression, and working out what made me tick. I found ways to head my bouts of sadness off at the pass, to make sure I focused on my responses to different situations, and how I could react to them differently, and I used any hacks I could to make sure each day I was choosing happiness over sadness.

Scientists have proven that just like paths in a forest, the pathways of the mind can be worn in, the more traffic they get. And when sadness has been your companion for a long time, then those paths of sadness are the well-worn ones. They are straight and wide, and you are comfortable there in an odd way, because it’s familiar. The happiness pathways by contrast, are like little deer tracks. Narrow, precarious, and easy to fall off.

The biggest key to battling depression is to make sure the path that’s getting the most traffic, is happiness. Ever heard the expression ‘fake it till you make it’? Well, that’s how I started. When I woke up, and whenever I thought about it during the day, I smiled. It wasn’t a true smile. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t want to smile, but smile I did.

Some days I even pushed my mouth upwards with my fingers, all the while wanting to cry. I must have looked as crazy as I felt. But you know what? It got easier. I got better at it. And I started feeling happier.

Your body is a pretty amazing thing. Did you know that every time you smile your brain releases feel good neurotransmitters – dopamine, endorphins and serotonin? Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever, serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant, and smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress.

Smiling literally makes us happier.

Smiling is one of the most well-known, and easiest to implement, of many ‘happiness hacks’ out there. My books ‘Finding Happy’, ‘Choosing Happy’, and ‘Keeping Happy’, due out mid-2017, will focus on discovering many other hacks, and implementing them in your life. Some are great for people with clinical depression, others are better for people who struggle with sadness, but all the books will be available for free on kindle when they are first published.

I was lucky. Thanks to my amazing husband I was forced to face my sadness before it became the crushing force that so many people have in their lives. I still had the energy (most days), to work on myself, and to focus on choosing better ways. Many people don’t. And this is where medication helps. Because when you can’t move off your bed, can’t shake the feeling of despair and overwhelming sadness, and you think about death far more often than you should, choosing to be happy is just not an option.

Medication provides your mind with enough space to see those fraudulent thoughts for what they are- thoughts not facts, and to look at options to help you heal. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not without its side effects, but it does provide relief from the worst symptoms of depression.

Medication is not the only thing you can try either. There are the talking therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which is a type of psychology that helps people change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. It is practical and involves self-help strategies. And research suggests that if you do 13 or more sessions it can work just as well as medication for some people. You can even do CBT at home.

Even things like routines and goal setting, eating healthily with lots of omega 3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, walking in nature, and challenging negative thoughts can help with depression. Exercise (yes the dreaded E word), can even have similar effects on the brain as anti-depressants.

There are so many options out there for anyone suffering from depression or sadness, that sometimes I think just diagnosing depression is the hard part. It certainly took me long enough (5 years I suspect..) and even then it was only my husband intervening that really pushed me to see it- and fight it.

These are some of the main symptoms of depression. How many did you know? Some people get a few, some get them all. Everyone is different. But they are certainly not as cut and dried as I used to think.

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• Irritability, restlessness
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• Overeating or appetite loss
• Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
• Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

Beyond Blue says ‘you may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, you’ve felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities, and have also experienced several of the signs and symptoms listed (on their page).

Depression symptoms can also be caused by conditions such as thyroid disease, vitamin D deficiency, and other medical problems. Make sure your doctor does full blood tests to rule these and many other things, out first.

Recognising I had depression was a turning point in my life. I’m smiling as I write this, and I can see the myriad ways in which I’ve changed over the past year. I choose to laugh when my daughter does something silly instead of scold. I’ve learnt ways to make myself happy on a daily basis-before the sadness and apathy take hold, and I’ve learnt how to block that annoying voice in my head that wishes me anything but the peace and happiness I so desire.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days where I have to remind myself to smile. Where I chant my mantra like an actual crazy person to stop my mind turning over conversations that haven’t happened, and futures that will never be. I still have to think about my reactions, swallow my retorts, and examine my thoughts, to see if I can choose a happier path, but it is getting easier and I am getting better at it all the time.

Because I refuse to live my life in sadness. I refuse to let something as intangible as depression steal my laughter, my dreams and my love of life, and turn them into endless days of melancholy.

I choose to be happy!

And I desperately want you to choose happiness too.

I know life sucks sometimes. There are usually patches where it sucks a lot! But when you’ve had depression or even been ‘down’ for an extended period of time, I think we forget how to focus on, and choose those things that make us happy. We forget to try. Because being happy doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and as spontaneously as people make out. You have to strive for it, search for it, and grab it with both hands when you find it.

But you don’t have to do it alone. If 350 million people worldwide (almost 5% of the worlds population), suffer from depression, how many of those around you do you think may also be silently struggling?

Please, if you, or someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out and talk to someone. There is help out there. And for every person who says #ihavedepression another person will find the strength to seek help. And slowly but surely depression will become just another cold to be cured.

And that’s why I’m writing this post. Even though I’m scared of what people will think. Even though it’s taken me a month to hit publish. Even though I don’t want to be labelled. More than anything, I want to give people the courage to choose happiness for themselves. Someone did it for me, and I hope you can do it for someone you know.

I would love to hear your thoughts on depression (whether you have it or not), as part of research for my upcoming books. Please complete the anonymous survey, and then share it on your Facebook or Twitter page, to help raise awareness, give depression the bird, and #endstigma for good.

If you don’t feel you can talk to friends or family, there are some wonderful organisations who can help – even if you want to remain anonymous. The sites below will give you information on depression, hotlines to ring to speak to people who know what you’re going through, therapist directories, and self-help activities you can do at home.

Hold onto hope. You are not alone, and you can beat this!

This is a guest post written by Heidi Farrelly. You can find out more about her here: Heidi Farrelly

Dealing with dread

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Image: Courtesy of: https://pixabay.com/en/users/MasimbaTinasheMadondo-1388843/

Dealing with dread

There are many times when I feel dread. Often, it emerges prior to the expectation of something unfamiliar. When there is a fear of the unknown, dealing with dread effectively can be a huge asset in life. The feeling of dread often arrives unannounced, feeling like a knot in my stomach or a feeling of fear and anxiety. Dealing with dread can help you to feel braver and approach life more than avoiding situations that you fear. ‘Approach behaviour’ leads to greater resilience and confidence.

Identify the thoughts

Invariably, a feeling of dread comes from the thoughts we have. These thoughts will be negative in nature. Thoughts such as, “I am not going to cope” or “I won’t enjoy myself” will lead to feelings of dread.

Change the story

Once you have identified the thoughts, get in the habit of challenging them. Thoughts aren’t facts – you can choose to tell yourself a different story. Instead of thinking, “I am not going to cope”, you could choose to think, “I will find a way to manage whatever comes my way. I have managed something similar to this in the past”. This will automatically life the feeling of dread.

What we think determines our quality of life. Choose your thoughts wisely.

Cultivate optimism

It serves no purpose to worry unnecessarily about the future. Wherever possible, assume a position of positive expectancy and you find this difficult to do, at least try to be as neutral and objective as possible about the future. People often assume that worrying about the future will keep them safe but this is a fallacy. All worry does is keep your ‘mental torture’ going.

Create goals

Instead of unnecessary worrying, create SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Goals create a structure to work towards and inject purpose into our lives. Goals can help to alleviate dread as they help us maintain direction in life. A clear sense of where we are going and what we would like to achieve can effectively limit dread in our daily lives.

Believe in yourself

Self belief can neutralise dread. When we have faith in our ability to cope, we feel more capable. Believe that you can overcome difficulties in life. You will surely have had to deal with challenges in the past. Use these past triumphs to strengthen your belief in yourself. Talk to yourself positively and remind yourself of your strengths regularly.

Life is more about perception than about the actual events we experience. We can reframe things and change the story in our minds and make anything in life seem less scary. It takes practise but it’s well worth it.

Mandy X

 

Reject rigid rules

 

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Reject rigid rules

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not talking about breaking the law. I do however think it is important to reject rigid rules when it comes to your subjective world. In Cognitive Behavioural therapy, we talk about unhelpful thinking styles (also known as cognitive distortions) and one of these is black and white thinking – also known as rigid rules.

Rigid thinking styles limit you in life – they narrow your focus and make you judgemental. The more rigid your thinking is, the more rules you tend to live by. The inevitable result is that the more rules you have for life, the more often they will be broken.

Some common rigid rules:

People must always like me

I am only worthy if I am in a relationship

I am only good enough if I have lots of money

People must see me as successful

Life should always go smoothly

I should not have to experience any set backs

It’s my parent’s fault

I should cope all the time

Showing emotion is a sign of weakness

The above examples lead to anxiety and stress as we try to live according to them and find they are constantly being challenged. The key to contentment is psychological flexibility. Learn to go with the flow more. Open up your thinking and look for other ways to look at your life and your attitudes. The easier you find it to adapt your thinking and reject rigid rules, the happier you will be for it.

Life won’t always go as planned (in fact it rarely does). You will find that acceptance rather than resistance works much better. Rigidly trying to make the outside world conform to your rules is a waste of energy and won’t ultimately work. Know your values of course but live with an open mind. Be curious…you may learn far more than if you stick doggedly to your rigid rules.

Mandy X

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

 

 

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

How to manage negative thoughts

negative thinking photoPhoto by martinak15

 

How to manage negative thoughts

We have somewhere between 40 000 and 60 000 thoughts every day so it pays to be selective about the thoughts you decide to focus on.  In general, I have found that most of my clients tend to worry more when they have spare time. Rumination is the tendency to over think things without finding a solution. It is wasted energy and only serves as mental torture.

The best way to deal with negative thoughts is to remind yourself that thoughts are NOT facts. They are merely a representation of reality and are formed according to your existing ‘filters’ and experiences. This means they can often be distorted and unhelpful – creating anxiety and distress unnecessarily. Have you ever worried about something only to find out that you had made assumptions and all your worry was for nothing? Remember that there is ALWAYS another way to look at an event. Watch what you tell yourself and how you interpret things.

Thoughts affect emotions which in turn affect how we behave. THINK – FEEL – BEHAVE. This is the bottom line of cognitive behavioural therapy. Watch your thinking, challenge your negative thinking and immediately improve your quality of life.

We can all ‘catastrophise’ initially and think the worst. For example, I have had days when I have eaten junk all day and then had the thought “I am never going to be healthy, I may as well just give up”. This thought led me to feeling pretty low and annoyed at myself. I could also choose to think “I may have been undisciplined today but tomorrow I can start again”. The same event and two different thoughts which will in turn lead to two different emotions….the first negative thought will lead to negative emotions whereas the second thought will lead me to feeling more hopeful and optimistic. Watch what you feed yourself – I call it my ‘mental diet’ and I constantly work at talking to myself in an empowering way.

Ask yourself what you might tell a friend to help you think up another way to look at something.

Remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. One good thing about life is that there will always be change and although change isn’t always welcome, at times it can really be a good thing.

Accept that negative and intrusive thoughts are part of life. They will keep coming but you can train yourself to let the thoughts pass without really giving them attention. Distract yourself if necessary…another thought will soon be coming along.

Learn to choose the thoughts that work for you and empower you. You can choose your thoughts and beliefs.

Don’t compare yourself to others as you never truly know what is going on, Instead focus on yourself, your strengths and your goals.

If you find it really hard not to worry, schedule yourself some ‘worry time’, say half an hour in the evening and then don’t allow yourself to worry until then. Make sure that when worry time comes around, you do your best to be resolution focused rather than allowing your scary thoughts to ‘bully’ and scare you. Fear paralyses us and often there is no need for the fear in the first place.

Think of these three options: Change, accept or let go.

Decide on a plan of action and do it. Try not to allow thought to just keep running through your mind over and over. The more you worry, the more you lose time to be content and at peace.

Keeping negative thinking in check takes practise and the job will never be perfect but I work at it every day and I have definitely improved my happiness levels and ability to cope over time…a work in progress and you can do it too.

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.