So many of us these days are focused on our physical well-being, which is great, but how many of us take the time to address our emotional well-being? After all, issues like stress, anxiety, and depression can have a huge impact on how you feel.
In fact, stress alone can affect your entire body including your heart, reproductive system, lungs, nervous system, and musculoskeletal system. Just as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can improve your physical health, there are many simple steps you can take to improve your mental health concerns and well-being. Learning to examine and challenge your negative thinking patterns can dramatically change the way you feel about yourself and the way you interact with the world. How can you do this? Through Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is one of the most effective and best-studied forms of psychotherapy. It can help you reduce anxiety and depression, deal with grief, cope with complicated relationship issues, and face many of life’s challenges with ease. Unlike traditional talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are active, directive, and results-oriented. It is rooted in the here-and-now, and you learn tools and techniques that you can apply for the rest of your life.
Another comforting benefit to CBT is that it’s time-limited. You do not need to spend years, or even months in therapy to see meaningful results. The basic premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is that the way you think directly impacts the way you feel. Imagine that two people studied exactly the same amount for an exam, and they are equally well-prepared. On the morning of the exam, both wake up having slept the same amount. One is telling themself, “You are so prepared. You are gonna crush this exam. You got this!” How will they feel? Maybe confident, eager, motivated, optimistic. And let’s imagine the other person is telling themself, “You should have studied more. You did not do enough. You never do enough. You’re gonna fail this exam!” How is that person going to feel? Maybe nervous, anxious, ashamed, and pessimistic. So you see, your thoughts are very powerful, and what you think will dictate how you feel and how you react to any situation. Dealing with negative thoughts can keep you in a cycle of continually feeling anxious for no reason, stressed, or depressed. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), the most common mental illness in this country is anxiety. It affects 40 million adults each year, yet only 36.9% seek treatment.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety, commonly referred to as generalized anxiety disorder, is an emotion that is characterized by tension, worry, and stress. It can manifest in anxiety attack symptoms in the body such as an increased blood pressure, upset stomach, headache, heart palpitations, and breathlessness. Anxiety disorder is a common condition that is very treatable. Worry refers to thoughts and emotions experienced in the mind. Worry thoughts are negative and repetitive and are usually focused on the future.
Anxiety is not all bad though. Let’s consider how anxiety might actually help you. Here are a few ideas:
Anxiety can protect you from danger. When you get anxious, you engage your “fight or flight” response. During this response, your body reacts to perceived danger to help you survive potentially life-threatening situations.
Anxiety can keep you and your loved ones safe. When you worry about your well-being and that of your loved ones, you may take the necessary steps to keep safe.
Anxiety can motivate you to prepare. If you’re worried about a deadline, your worries may help you to work hard.
Anxiety can assist you in becoming a better problem-solver. Your feelings of worry may keep you on your toes allowing you to find new solutions and better strategies.
Anxiety can prevent you from forgetting things. Worrying about what you might need to get done may prompt you to review certain details that may have been overlooked.
In addition to having many benefits, anxiety can tell you a lot about who you are and what is important to you. In fact, worrying can be a reflection of your core values. For example, if you worry about your children, it shows how much you love them. If you worry about your job, it shows that you have high standards and want to do your best.
Given all of these benefits, you may be wondering right now: Why would I want to give up this anxiety, after all, it protects me, motivates me, and shows what I value!
That’s a great question. Let’s see if we can answer that…
Too much anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable and irritable.
Worrying can make your mind race which can keep you from getting good quality sleep.
Anxiety symptoms can lead to overeating. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body secretes a hormone called cortisol into your bloodstream which can increase your appetite.
Anxiety may lead to trouble in your relationships. You may be irritable and cranky and take that out on others, or you may be overly controlling because of your feelings of anxiety and worry.
Anxiety and worry can lead to physical discomfort and an increase in health problems.
If you think you might benefit from getting help for your anxiety, you can weigh the cost and benefits of being anxious to see whether it feels like something that is hurting you more than it is helping you.
What is depression?
Clinical Depression is another common condition, and just like anxiety, it is very treatable. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, low self-worth, feelings of guilt, a decrease in energy, and a general lack of interest. In extreme cases, depression symptoms can lead to thoughts of suicide. It is one of the most widely occurring mental health conditions. It can affect people of all ages.
Like anxiety symptoms, there are some aspects of sadness that can add value to your life.
Feeling sad and lonely may motivate you to seek connections by prompting you to reach out to friends and family to talk about what’s bothering you.
Feelings of shame may help you not repeat the same errors over and over.
Feeling guilty about something you did may help you fix a wrong faster than usual or it may help you to stay accountable to doing things differently
Depression can make you more empathetic. Feelings of guilt and shame can help you understand similar emotions in others resulting in greater empathy.
Feeling sad about a loss can show what we really value in life and what is important to us.
So again, you may be wondering: Why would I want to give up my feelings of sadness or guilt or shame, since it might be helpful and it shows what is important to me?
Unfortunately, depression can negatively impact your quality of life in many ways…
Depression can cause you to spin your wheels. You may feel disorganized and can’t seem to get things done.
Depression may cause excessive sleepiness during the day and restlessness at night.
Feelings of guilt and shame can increase your sense of worthlessness leading to an overall lack of motivation.
You may find that you dwell on your short-comings. A little self-reflection is good, but depression can cause you to obsess about your own negative situations and disregard others.
Depression can cause you to self-isolate, and withdraw from the people and activities that mean the most to you.
If you think you might benefit from getting help for your symptoms of depression, you can weigh the cost and the benefits of having these feelings to see whether it is something that is hurting you more than it is helping you. By identifying, understanding, and addressing your feelings and thoughts, you can move toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
How can anxiety and depression be effectively treated?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy techniques have been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
CBT teaches us to examine our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Since how we think has a direct impact on how we feel, we can learn strategies to change our negative and anxious thinking so that we can feel better.
Here are a few steps to increase your awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
Identify the trigger. Ask yourself, “what happened that caused this negative feeling?”
Label your feelings. Use feeling words like anxious, sad, guilty, ashamed.
Identify the thoughts that are driving your feelings. You might be telling yourself things like I am not good enough, I should be better than I am, I am unloveable, or I am going to fail this exam, people will reject me, etc.
Consider ways to challenge your negative thoughts by looking at facts and logic. Ask yourself questions like What is the evidence for this thought? What is the evidence against this thought? How do I know for sure this is true? How likely is this to happen? What else might happen? Would I be as critical of a friend as I am of myself?
The foundation of CBT lies in identifying cognitive distortions or incorrect ways of thinking. Recognizing these distortions is the first step in effectively changing your thinking. Here are thinking distortions you may engage in:
All-or-Nothing Thinking. You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
Overgeneralization. You view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
Mental filter. You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. This is like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
Discounting Positives. You insist your positive qualities don’t count.
Jumping to Conclusions. You jump to conclusions not warranted by the facts.
Mind-Reading. You assume that people are reacting negatively to you.
Fortune-Telling. You predict that things will turn out badly.
Magnification or Minimization. You blow things way out of proportion or shrink them.
Emotional Reasoning. You reason from your feelings: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.” Or “I feel hopeless. This means I’ll never get better.”
Should Statements. You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have tos.”
Labeling. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “I’m a loser.”
Self-Blame and Other-Blame. You find fault instead of solving the problem.
Identifying your cognitive distortions helps you understand your thinking errors and move past them by thinking rationally. CBT employs a number of cognitive strategies to help you work through many kinds of distorted thinking.
What are some cognitive behavioral therapy techniques?
Here are a few effective ways in which cognitive behavior therapy works:
Learning to think in Shades of Grey. This specific strategy helps with all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of looking at situations and possible outcomes in black and white, you learn tolook for the middle ground. For example, instead of staying to yourself, “I am a terrible mother because I snapped at my kids this morning”, you might learn to think, “I was not my best this morning, and I want to apologize and work on being more patient during the morning rush, but on the whole, I am a loving, caring, and supportive mom who is sometimes crabby!”
Examine the Evidence. Using this strategy you learn to look at evidence for and against your negative thought. You “put your thought on trial” and see if it is really true, or if you actually have very little evidence to support it.
Reattribution. This strategy helps you understand what were the many factors that contributed to the problem. You’ll ask questions like, “What caused this problem? How did I contribute to it? “How did others contribute to it?”You will learn that sometimes problems are mult-faceted and not generally entirely your fault.
Worry Breaks. This strategy helps you schedule a specific time every day to focus on your worries. These 15–20 minute worry breaks allow you to focus on your negative thoughts and feelings for a limited amount of time so that you do not dwell on the worries all day long. Each time you have a worry thought, you can remind yourself, “I will worry about that during my worry break today at 5pm, but I can put it aside for now.”nce your worry break is over, you can go about your day and move on.
Is online cognitive behavior therapy right for you?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stressful time for many of us. Lives have been upended, and we’ve all had to rethink the way we go about our day. This also means that our methods of treatment and therapy have changed as well. Online CBT is available at the Feeling Good Institute. You can receive quality care from the comfort and safety of your own home. The Feeling Good Institute offers a variety of online treatments including intensive CBT.
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, work stress, grief, relationship challenges, or other issues, the Feeling Good Institute will match you with a therapist who specializes in helping others like you. And you can feel confident that you are getting a certified therapist who is highly skilled. All of our therapists have had hundreds of hours of Cognitive Behavior Therapy training.
Here’s a video we created to give you a feel for how Cognitive Behavior Therapy works.
The Feeling Good Institute is on a mission to improve lives with effective therapy. It organizes, trains, and supports the more than 1,000 therapists who successfully practice TEAM-CBT, a form of CBT developed by Dr. David Burns. These highly-qualified therapists have sharpened their expertise at the institute, and countless clients have been taught effective skills they can utilize the rest of their lives through either online sessions or in-person treatment. Schedule a free consultation with a therapist to see if we are right for you at https://www.feelinggoodinstitute.com/.
Citation: Medium - You Can Feel Better with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dr. Jill Levitt