Tag Archives: cognitive behavioural therapy

Reject rigid rules


rules photo

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 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


The cause of anxiety


anxious photo

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


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:


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


thought photo

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

The key to happiness


happiness photo


The key to happiness

These two quotes may seem opposed but they go to the heart of the key to happiness:

“Happiness is an inside job” and “When you are in your mind, you are in enemy territory”

Both of these quotes are true and illustrate how important it is to manage our minds and our thoughts. The key to happiness is knowing how to manage our minds and deal with our thoughts. We have something like 50 000 – 70 000 thoughts per day and the majority of these thoughts are non-productive, irrational and of no proper value to us. When you keep this in mind, it makes sense to learn what to do with out intrusive and automatic thoughts. The content of the thoughts we choose to pay attention to and focus on determine our feelings and beliefs about the world and therefore influence our behaviour and the quality of our lives.

Learn to focus on the right thoughts and dismiss the ones that serve no purpose and you will be on the road to happiness. Optimists tend to have far more ‘buffers’ than pessimists and are better able to hang on to the positive thoughts rather than the negative ones. They are both equal in that they are thoughts – not facts. Choose which thoughts to pay attention to and you will definitely improve the quality of your life.

Having said that, I am not saying it is an easy task. Humans are hard-wired to focus on threat and danger and subsequently-  negative thinking. Back centuries ago when we roamed the plains as hunters, it would have served us well to perceive threat and danger and telling ourselves that the lion approaching was just “cute and cuddly” would have been very dangerous.

These days, there is less actual threat like a lion or famine but when we feel stressed and anxious, the exact same parts of the brain get activated. This part of the brain cannot tell the difference between real and perceived threat – it will receive the signals and act accordingly. This is why it is important to know when your body is reacting and causing anxiety – this is when we can use mindfulness, bring ourselves back to the present moment and learn to silence our fearful and anxiety provoking thoughts such as – No one will ever love me, I am useless, life will always be this bad etc

power of thoughts

Steps to manage your mind and thoughts:

  1. Learn to identify your thinking.  Hang on to the positive thoughts and learn to let go of the negative ones. I often catch myself saying something negative to myself but immediately ‘reframe’ the thought. ie. “No I am not useless and worthless, I am just human and making mistakes like everyone else”.
  2. Learn to dismiss negative thoughts. Visualise your thoughts as leaves floating down a river. Watch them float by. You can’t ignore thoughts but you can learn to dismiss them and not focus on them. Don’t ‘buy into’ your negative thoughts…let them pass by. They are just thoughts.
  3. Cultivate positive healthy thinking. Engage in positive self talk and make a habit of talking to yourself as you would a best friend. The more positive we are towards ourselves, the happier we tend to be.
  4. Try mindfulness. Be in the present moment. The more we engage our five senses in the moment, the less time our minds have to wander and get us into trouble with negative thinking and worry. If you catch yourself obsessing over something or running it over and over in your mind, try bring yourself back to your immediate surroundings.
  5. Accept intrusive thinking as a part of life. We ALL have intrusive mad thoughts that pop into our heads, it’s just the way we are made. Don’t take it personally, just learn to dismiss them and not pay too much attention to those thoughts.

What we believe about the world will influence our enjoyment – this is the bottom line. Keep the positive thoughts, dismiss the negative and intrusive thoughts and get used to challenging thoughts that you find difficult to dismiss by asking yourself where the EVIDENCE is for a particular thought. I recently had a client who said he was “useless”, but we soon challenged this by finding times in his life when he certainly wasn’t useless, making that statement incorrect. Get into the habit of being a better ‘mind manager’. It really is the key to happiness.

Mandy X

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)


generalised anxiety disorder


Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD for short) is a common anxiety disorder where a person worries excessively in most situations. Their fear or anxiety is not limited to one specfic situation but is generalized to many different types of situations. GAD often involves a sense of dread and/or doom and “what if” thinking.

Often, people who have Generalised Anxiety Disorder possess positive beliefs around worrying. These, however are erroneous. They believe that worrying keeps them safe from harm and helps them to be prepared. Investigating this idea further usually demonstrates that there are no guarantees in life and that there will often be times when we worry in order to stay safe and events still occur that are beyond our control. “What if” thinking means that the present moment is ruined by feeling anxious over an occurrence in the future that may never happen.

Having GAD leads a person to imagine worst case scenarios and pretty much torture themselves mentally. They live a fearful life in their minds rather than engaging with reality around them.

Ways to deal with Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a very good therapy to help counteract GAD.

  1. Challenge your thinking

Where’s the evidence that what you are thinking is true? Always ask yourself is there is another way to look at something…is there another explanation?

2. Gain perspective

Are you likely to feel this way in a week from now? A year? What would you say about this if a friend asked you for advice and was in the same situation? Can you add some logic to the picture?

3. Know the difference between what you can and can’t control

A lot of our “what if” thinking is based upon hypothetical worries/events – in that they may never happen. A real worry would be fixing a dishwasher that has packed up. A hypothetical worry would be worrying that someone might not like you if you don’t act in a certain way. There is no obvious evidence for this so it is best to learn to dismiss this thought and not focus on it.

4. Focus externally rather than internally

GAD sufferers tend to be really caught up in their own heads. Focusing on others and the environment can ease worry by focusing less on our fears and insecurities. Consider what other people may be thinking or focus on their behaviour rather than your own.

5. Allocate ‘worry time”

If you absolutely must spend time worrying, try setting aside an hour a day to write worries down and then try to problem solve them and create an action plan. Worrying that goes over the same thing again and again is wasted energy and will not achieve anything.

I have a fridge magnet with this quote on it: “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere”. So true!

If you cannot control your worries and they are seriously interfering with your life, it might be a good idea to seek professional help and go see your doctor who could recommend counselling/CBT and/or medication.

Mandy X


Healthy Thoughts


thoughts photo

Healthy thoughts

When you feel stressed or anxious – watch what you are thinking and read through this list of healthier thoughts – better ways to think. Your mood is directly dependent on what you think about yourself and the world:


  1. There is no law carved in stone that states “I MUST”. Stop putting pressure on yourself. You could but you don’t have to.
  2. It’s just a hassle, not a horror. Don’t catastrophise when bad stuff happens. Don’t blow things out of proportion.
  3. I am not worthless because I fail and make mistakes.
  4. If I don’t recover quickly, I can learn from my mistakes and eventually do better at recovering.
  5. One failure does not mean TOTAL failure, or that I will never succeed.
  6. Reality is reality, not what I think it must be.
  7. Being human means I will sometimes act imperfectly.
  8. It is okay to ask for help.
  9. It is okay to not know what to do.
  10. It is okay to not cope and feel weak at times.

When we use good thoughts, we feel better about ourselves and life. Be an organised’thought manager’ – learn to let go of thoughts that are unhelpful and focus more on the thoughts that serve you well.

Mandy X