Tag Archives: CBT

How to decatastrophise

 

relax photo

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

 

 

The overlap between depression and anxiety

 

depression photo

The overlap between depression and anxiety

I had hoped this year would be off to a good start but annoyingly, depression has raised it’s ugly head again. Suddenly, I realised I was withdrawing from others, spending more time sleeping and feeling very unenthused about pretty much everything in life.

It doesn’t help that I have been seeing someone for a few months who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have health problems. He was super keen until I told him about the fact that I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. To be fair to him, he is actually a very decent guy and lost his wife to cancer in 2015. Unsurprisingly he does not wish to have to go through all that trauma again.

Not that I am planning on going anywhere just yet but I guess I am more of a risk than a ‘healthy person’. The overlap between depression and anxiety is clear here. I have felt anxious about the status of the relationship for a few months now and this emotional stress has taken it’s toll, leading to depression.

Of course, I am doing my best to apply cognitive behavioural principles and keep perspective. I also ‘feed’ myself with positive affirmations daily and remind myself of all my wonderful qualities too. Despite, this, I am still human and still subject to all the rejection, fear and worry as everyone else.

I wanted to write this post to let anyone else out there struggling with anxiety and depression to remind themselves that life is a series of ups and downs. Accept that there will be down times but that the good news is you won’t stay down there forever. Take life one day at a time when you feel you are struggling and don’t take your thinking too seriously. I know that my thinking is seriously ‘off’ when I am depressed and I tend to see everything as my fault. I tend to also think about myself and my abilities in a very negative way. I do my best to ‘distance’ myself from this thinking as I know it is distorted and a product of my depressed state.

Keep your chin up(I will try too) and hopefully this dark cloud will soon clear.

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.

The cause of anxiety

 

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The cause of anxiety

In cognitive behavioural therapy, we refer to the anxiety equation. The anxiety equation shows the cause of anxiety.

Overestimation of the threat

____________________________________  =  Anxiety

Underestimation of ability to cope

Anxiety is always caused by our overestimation of the perceived threat and our underestimation of our ability to cope or handle the situation.

With regard to overestimating the threat – think about a time when you have anticipated an event and got yourself all worked up over it. Then  when you have actually experienced the dreaded event, you have found that it wasn’t half as bad as you expected it to be. Sound familiar?? This is part of the reason why we feel so anxious.

The other part is that we often underestimate our ability to cope. We tell ourselves we won’t be able to do it or that if the feared thing does happen, we will have a panic attack or not be able to manage it. We talk to ourselves in a fearful way that adds to our sense of dread. What we then do is try to avoid the event (which is the worst thing to do) or we find ways that we feel will help us cope by employing “safety behaviours”. Safety behaviours are things that we do that help us to cope temporarily in a feared or stressful situation. For some, it may be carrying a bottle of water or looking at our mobile phone (say for example in a situation where we feel anxious socially, in the company of others) or it could be complete avoidance. The problem is that when we avoid something we fear, the fear grows in our mind and we never test out our beliefs. When we face our fears, we often realise that we cope far better than we thought we would and this helps us to grow in confidence.

Even of the feared event doesn’t go that well, we teach ourselves that we still get through it, that we are still standing at the end of it and in this way we chip away at the fearful beliefs.

So, keep facing your fears. Keep repeating this and the more you face the feared situation, the easier it becomes and the less you will fear it. Start with baby steps if need be. For example, if you truly fear walking in to a room full of strangers ( a 10 out of 10 rating for anxiety, 0 = no anxiety, 10 = most anxiety), start with a 1 or 2 out of 10 anxiety rating. For example, perhaps start out by entering a room with one friend in it, then a few friends in it (slightly higher rating of 3 out of 10), then progress to a room full of friends (rating 5 out of 10 and then finally a room full of strangers)…this is just a very general example of “graded exposure” – get used to each level until the anxiety dissipates and then progress up to higher rating of anxiety of your feared-situation list.

In this way, you will learn to see the threat for what it really is, which is often less scary that you thought it would be and you also learn that you can cope with difficult situations. You will only know this by testing your beliefs out to see what happens!

You don’t need to live with anxiety – learn to challenge your fears. You may need to be out of your comfort zone more often but in the end you will expand your area of comfort and feel anxiety much less often and that is something we would all welcome!

Mandy X

 

 

The quickest routes to unhappiness

 

routes to unhappiness

thoughtsonlifeandlove.com

The quickest routes to unhappiness

We can often be our own worst enemies, engaging in behaviours that lead us down routes to unhappiness. Here are the most common ways that we end up unhappy:

Overthinking

The more time you have to worry endlessly about something, the more likely you are to feel unhappy. Rumination tends to lead us to negative thinking and a whole lot of “what if” thinking. If you find yourself going over the same topic in your mind without looking for an active solution – distract yourself. When you are in your mind, you are in enemy territory. Learn to become a better ‘thought manager’. Distinguish between real (the car has broken down) and hypothetical (“what if…”) thinking. Ask yourself if your worry is something you can/can’t control and take action if there is something you can do. Worry in itself is wasted energy. It’s a myth that it keeps you safe and prepared. Life is uncertain – accept it.

Making comparisons

Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea, especially if you compare yourself in a negative way. You don’t really know what is going on in someone else’s life. Stop focusing on them and focus on your own life and where you want to be. The less you focus and compare, the happier you will be – it’s that simple.

Living by too many rules

The more rules you tend to live by, the more anxious and unhappy you are likely to be. The more rules, which often take the form of “if this…then that”, the more often they will be broken – leading to tension and anxiety. We all have ‘rules for living’. One of mine is: If I don’t please others, they won’t like me. This rule for living leads me to agree to do things I often don’t want to do or don’t really have the time for. This leads me to feeling time pressure and I feel less happy as a result. The more flexible you can be in your thinking the better…let the rules go.

Chasing the wrong things

When we feel under threat, we look for immediate ways to self soothe and feel better. This could be alcohol, drugs, shopping, having illicit affairs and so on. This works for a short while but the original threat usually returns and then we turn to the negative unhelpful behaviour once again. Research suggests that the things that tend to make us happy include experiences, friends and family rather than material possessions. Spending time with others, bonding and connecting, releases the chemical oxytocin – a long lasting ‘happy hormone’ that the body releases. Get your priorities straight and have a plan and a direction.

Living with no purpose

Have you set yourself clear short term and long term goals? A little structure in life and a sense of purpose can do wonders for self esteem and confidence, thereby increasing happiness levels. Make sure you have something to work towards and check regularly that you are on track and going in the right direction. Help others, donate to a charity and spread some kindness in the world. It leads to happiness.

Living in the past or the future

Get back to being present in your life. When we live in the past or we live in the future, we aren’t fully engaged with the current moment and this is the moment of ‘power’. Learn to be more mindful and really enjoy where you are – the physical environment around you.

Try This:

Focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Relish the moment.

The above definitely challenge your ability to be happy – make an effort to stop doing them and you might just realise that happiness is possible.

Mandy X

The curse of thought

 

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The curse of thought

Your thoughts and beliefs have the power to create heaven or hell for you. The thoughts you choose to listen to and focus on influence the quality of your life. The curse of thought is something we all have to manage. Thoughts will continue to enter your mind, some invited and some uninvited. You can’t control who knocks at your door but you can control and decide how long you wish to entertain them for. The same goes for your thoughts. We all have something like 70 000 thoughts whizzing through our minds daily. If we don’t manage our thoughts effectively, it will show in the form of chaotic lives. Show me an unhappy person, and I will show you at least 80% of the time, someone who has not learned how to become an effective thought manager. A positive thought is often just as valid as a negative thought. There is always a number of ways to look at a particular situation. Pessimistic, depressive personalities will tend to focus on the worrisome thoughts and believe the negative thoughts whereas optimists will tend to lean towards the more positive thoughts.

Here’s an example: When my son as very young, we went on holiday with my partner and his parents. When my son cried in the night, my mother-in-law would jump out of bed and take charge.

Neutral interpretation without emotional interpretation: my son is crying. my mother in law has gone to tend to my son.

Negative interpretation of neutral event (this was my intitial perception): She is so rude and she obviously feels she is more competent and soothing my son than I am. I felt put out an annoyed. A negaive appraisal and negative thinking led me to feeling unhappy and angry.

Another rational alternative: My mother in law is just trying to help. She is not necessarily trying to show me up to be an inferior parent. When she tends to my son it also means I can get more sleep. This interpretation leads to less and anger and a happier mood.

Cognitive behavioural therapy states that it isn’t what happens to you but rather your perception of what happens that leads to emotions and the further behaviour in line with that feeling. So if we nip the thinking in the bud and get into the habit of looking for rational alternatives, we increase the likelihood that we can see things in a more positive light and therefore feel happier in life.

Thinking and beliefs can make or break a person. We have much more choice about what we choose to believe. Clients resist this idea but it’s true. Clients tell me that they cannot help the anger or the resentment and that they will never be able to see things differently because it is reality BUT there are MANY versions of your reality. I know which version of reality I would prefer to believe….

Mandy X