*Disclaimer: I am not a mental health expert and my recommendations do not replace those of a physician or licensed therapist. All opinions are my own and based on my own experience.
When I first sought treatment for my anxiety and depression, my doctor (among referring me to a psychologist and assessing any need for medication) recommended the book Feeling Good. As soon as I got home, I ordered the book. I couldn’t help but judge the book by its cover- a painfully dated 80’s colour scheme and cheesy subtitle: “The New Mood Therapy”?
Feeling Good follows the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)- which according to the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists “is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events”. The root of my (and I’m sure many others’) anxious behaviors was deeply-seeded negative thought patterns. When you tell yourself something enough times, you start to believe it. But here’s the thing- a lot of times, the things you tell yourself are not rational, are too harsh, are coming from a super focused lens that nobody else is seeing you through. And when that happens, there are ways to catch yourself when you fall into those patterns, to reframe those negative thoughts and channel them so that they are more realistic and manageable.
In Feeling Good, David Burns identifies ten common cognitive distortions that cause many of us to be so down on ourselves, as well as many techniques on how to dispute them so that they can be minimized in the future- and it’s available on Amazon at a super affordable price. Is your budget more $Free.99? This free guide on Coronado Student And Family Enrichment’s website describes nine of the distortions as well as the ABCD (Activating Situation, Belief or Thought, Consequence, Disputing Questions) model of identifying and rationalizing them. The University of Pittsburgh also has Burns’ list of the ten types distortions with examples for free here.
Here’s some things I learned from CBT:
- It helps to write things down. Not just because most exercises like the ones linked above and in Burns’ book require you to write out, identify, and reframe distortions, but the act of just putting pen to paper makes you present and is a form of a release. It’s like, science.(It really is, look it up.)
- But there’s also apps. If you’re not a pen and paper kind of person, there’s plenty of CBT apps that are just a Google search away!
- We’ve all been there. A distortion that I struggle(d) with is mindreading- projecting my own insecurities into what I assume other people are thinking. They think I’m a loser, they don’t like me, they think I’m lame, etc. But MyTherapistSaid something that stuck with me- people are usually so preoccupied with themselves that they really don’t care that much about the little things we tend to agonize over. Think of this quote from Olin Miller (I don’t know who tf that is either): “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.”
- Be kind to yourself. Literally. A lot of irrational thought patterns have to do with being hard on yourself and putting yourself under pressure. CBT introduces an interesting perspective- would you say this to a friend? Most likely the answer is no. So why would you say that to yourself?
- It’s about more than just your thoughts. I’ve focused a lot on the cognitive part of CBT, but there’s also the behavioural. CBT teaches you to recognize situations that tend to trigger negative thought patterns, or unhelpful coping mechanisms that you use as a result of those negative thoughts. It can help you to consequently make behavioural changes that can minimize those triggers, and to identify more beneficial ways to cope. Going for a walk outside, reaching out to a friend, trying a new hobby- doing activities that bring you out of isolation and away from the negative thought patterns is just as important as identifying and reframing them.
- It takes time. Old habits die hard- and it’s even harder when you can’t even trust your own mind sometimes. It is a true battle, and it can be tiring. But it is worth it. It’s possible to break through it. I know you can.
Treatment and recovery looks different for every person. In my opinion, CBT can be a good supplementary treatment tool if you are experiencing mental health problems, or even just a regular resource to use to maintain your mental health.
By: Rachel Vandersluis