Cognitive behaviour therapy is a way of helping people struggling with depression and anxiety by understanding that thoughts and feelings influence our behaviour. We’re looking at how cognitive behavioural therapy can help you deal with stressful situations you may find yourself in.
According to the NHS cognitive behavioural therapy (C.B.T.) is a form of treatment that helps people deal with stress and anxiety using practical applications. The therapy relies on the idea that it’s not only the events in our lives that affect us but how we think about them. C.B.T. is a verbal psycho-therapeutic treatment that, by examining your current situation helps you find positive and practical ways for you to overcome your stress and anxiety.
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What does cognitive behavioural therapy do?
Cognitive behavioural therapy centres around changing your negative thought patterns. When you attend a C.B.T. session you’ll find that the therapist doesn’t focus on past experience as most traditional therapists do. But will examine how you can learn from situations you are experiencing at the moment. Take your morning commute, for example, if you leave the house one second too late you’re bound to get stuck in traffic. Rather than stressing yourself out by focusing on the wasted time (yes, it’s incredibly annoying) instead, you could see it as an opportunity to listen to music or catch up on your favourite podcast.
Why is cognitive behavioural therapy a great technique for dealing with stress?
For cognitive behavioural therapy (C.B.T.) to be an effective means of dealing with stress, you should follow prescribed exercises at least once a day. First, you need to look at your situation and pinpoint what is making you anxious. Next look at similar situations where you overcame the difficulty. Finally, you compare the two scenarios; what was different? Ask yourself, how did you handle the problem then and how will you use that experience to influence your response to your current situation. Ask yourself what strengths do you possess that you made use of last time, how will you use those strengths this time.
C.B.T. works because you’re taking whatever is making you anxious and compartmentalising the problems into smaller manageable sizes. Then separating your problems into items that you can control or can be seen as fact and problems that you feel or perceive - opinion.
C.B.T. relies heavily on our explanatory style- our explanatory style affects our stress levels. It gives an insight as to how we perceive the world and react to our stressors. If we have an open, optimistic explanatory style we may feel/ react to stress less because the severity of the stressor is lessened. But if we lean towards a more negative explanatory style our stressors appear more threatening as the severity of the situation/ stressor will be heightened. People who tend towards negative thought patterns and styles can create more stress in life which makes our stressors feel more threatening.
We can change our explanatory styles with time and patience. By learning to recognise our thoughts -or cognitive distortions- we can practice cognitive restructuring techniques. By recognising and changing the way we process our experiences we can change negative thought patterns into positive ones.
How can we use C.B.T. in our daily lives?
Cognitive behavioural therapy - as mentioned before- takes a practical approach to managing our negative thoughts. The underlying concept of C.B.T. is that our thoughts and feelings will influence our actions. For example, if you are scared of flying you will most probably avoid air travel.
One of the main principles behind C.B.T. is to change automatic negative thoughts into automatic positive thoughts. Because automatic negative thoughts are just that - automatic, they spring to the forefront of our minds and we take them as fact.
For example if you are starting out on an exercise regimen, when your immediate thought is ‘I’ll never lose the weight’ or ‘I can’t run five miles’ we need to teach ourselves to think more along the lines of, ‘I can’t run five miles yet, but I will in three months.’ Changing the way we perceive our present isn’t only reserved for fitness, it can be used in everyday situations for example when facing our fears whether it’s public speaking, asking your boss for a promotion or standing up for yourself in your family sphere. But focusing on the present and not immediately assuming the worst we’ll be able to handle certain situations easier than if we let our minds immediately wonder to the negative possibilities.
We’ve made mention a few times about drawing on your strengths and positive reactions you’ve experienced in the past, for some of us that’s easier said than done. We often find ourselves overwhelmed by emotions or the situation and sometimes it’s easier to slip back into old habits.
If you are a tactile person and don’t feel that simple reflection will work you can explore more tangible options. A tangible way of changing our explanatory styles is by starting a journal or if you’re digitally minded, a blog, where you put down your feelings and recounting situations all the while keeping a positive angle in mind. By journaling, you will also be able to train yourself to pinpoint exactly when in your stress cycle you begin to feel overwhelmed and subsequently change the direction your thoughts take you.
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