If you haven’t looked into cognitive behavioral therapy, please do. It’s a clunky name but a great mindset. My notes here will give you an idea of what it’s about. It’s very effective for depression, anxiety, and more.
You feel the way you think.
Be like a scientist: treat your thoughts as theories, rather than facts.
Event → Beliefs → Feelings and actions.
The meaning is assigned in “Beliefs”.
The meaning you attach influences the emotional response.
Break down a problems using ABC:
A = Activating event - the trigger - a real external event that has occurred, a future event that you anticipate occurring, or an internal event in your mind, such as an image, memory, or dream.
B = Beliefs - thoughts, personal rules, demands you make on yourself or world, and the meanings that you attach to external and internal events.
C = Consequences - emotions, behaviours, and physical sensations that accompany different emotions.
Write down your problem in ABC form to differentiate between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and the trigger event.
Focus on how your problems are being maintained rather than on searching for a single root cause of the problem.
Mull over the pros and cons of the way you think.
If you’re feeling excessively bad, chances are that you’re thinking badly - in an unhelpful way.
Catastrophising is taking a relatively minor negative event and imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from that one small event.
Extreme thinking leads to extreme emotions and behaviors.
Instead of all-or-nothing thinking, try both-and reasoning. You need to mentally allow two seeming opposites to exist together.
Fortune-Telling: You’re better off letting the future unfold without trying to guess how it may turn out.
A ship is safe in a harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for.
Live experimentally and take calculated risks to keep life interesting.
Mind-reading: to assume that others are thinking negative things about you or have negative motives.
Your past experiences don’t determine your future experiences.
Your guesses may be wrong.
Generate alternative reasons for what you see.
Get more information.
Remind yourself that feelings aren’t facts.
Ask yourself how you’d view the situation if you were feeling calmer.
Overgeneralising is the error of drawing global conclusions from one or more events.
The inflexibility of the demands you place on yourself, the world around you, and other people often means you don’t adapt to reality as well as you could.
Replace words like ‘must’, ‘need’, and ‘should’ with ‘prefer’, ‘wish’, and ‘want’.
The world doesn’t play to your rules.
Limit approval seeking.
Make a satisfying life even if you don’t get the approval of everyone you seek it from.
Mental filtering: when you acknowledge only information that fits with a belief you hold.
Deliberately collect evidence that contradicts your negative thoughts.
Gather evidence to prove that your negative thought isn’t true.
Foster high frustration tolerance.
Push yourself to do things that are uncomfortable or unpleasant.
Give yourself messages that emphasise your ability to withstand pain.
Many things can be difficult to tolerate, but rating them as ‘intolerable’ often makes situations seem more daunting than they really are.
Remove yourself from the centre of the universe.
Look for explanations of events that have little or nothing to do with you.
Figure out which thinking errors you tend to make the most.
Jot down your thoughts whenever you feel upset and note what was happening at the time.
The way you think affects the way you feel. Therefore, changing your unhelpful thoughts is a key to feeling better.
(ABC: Activating event, Beliefs and thoughts, Consequences)
The first step is to see the connection between your thoughts and emotions.
Emotions and behaviour are consequences (C) of the interaction between the activating event or trigger (A) and the beliefs or meanings (B)
In Consequences, write down how you acted.
How your behaviour changed when you felt your uncomfortable emotion.
In Activating Event, write down what triggered your feelings.
Something happening right now, something that occurred in the past, something that you’re anticipating to happen in the future, something in the external world. Something in your mind.
Identify the thinking errors that may exist in the thoughts you list.
Jumping to the worst possible conclusion? (Catastrophising)
Thinking in extreme - all-or-nothing - terms? (Black-and-white thinking)
Using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ to draw generalised conclusions from a specific event? (Overgeneralising)
Predicting the future instead of waiting to see what happens? (Fortune-telling)
Jumping to conclusions about what other people are thinking of me? (Mind-reading)
Focusing on the negative and overlooking the positive? (Mental filtering)
Discounting positive information or twisting a positive into a negative? (Disqualifying the positive)
Globally putting myself down as a failure, worthless, or useless? (Labelling)
Listening too much to my negative gut feelings instead of looking at the objective facts? (Emotional reasoning)
Taking an event or someone’s behaviour too personally or blaming myself and overlooking other factors? (Personalising)
Using words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’, and ‘have to’ in order to make rigid rules about myself, the world, or other people? (Demanding)
Telling myself that something is too difficult or unbearable or that ‘I can’t stand it’ when actually it’s hard to bear but it is bearable and worth tolerating? (Having a low frustration tolerance)
Examine and weaken your unhelpful thoughts:
Can I prove that my thought is 100 per cent true?
What are the effects of thinking this way?
Is my thought wholly logical or sensible?
Do people whose opinions I respect agree that this thought’s realistic?
What evidence exists against this thought?
Is my thought balanced, or extreme?
Is my thought rigid or flexible?
Am I thinking objectively and realistically, or are my thoughts being biased by how I feel?
Generate alternatives for each of your unhelpful thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
What’s a more helpful way of looking at the situation?
Do I encourage friends to think in this way?
When I’m feeling OK, how do I think differently?
Have any past experiences shown me that another possible outcome exists?
What’s a more flexible or less extreme way of thinking?
What’s a more realistic or balanced way of thinking that takes into account the evidence that does not support my thought?
Develop a plan to move forward.
Test your thoughts in reality, rather than simply talking about them.
Get unambiguous disconfirmation.
Discover conclusively that your fears don’t come true.
Describe your problem.
Formulate your prediction.
Execute an experiment.
Examine the results.
Take care not to use subtle ways of keeping your feared catastrophe at bay, such as doing experiments only when you feel ‘right’, are with ‘safe’ people, have safety signals to hand (such as a mobile phone or a bottle of water), or are using safety behaviours (such as trying to control your anxiety with distraction or by gripping tightly to your steering wheel). Using these subtle safety measures during your exposure to a fear can leave you with the impression that you’ve had a narrow escape, rather than highlighting that your predicted fear didn’t come true.
If you feel depressed, you’re likely to withdraw and isolate yourself.
Isolating and mood-depressing behaviours, like not seeing friends, increase your sense of isolation and maintain your low mood.
Self-isolating behaviour is one of the key ways in which depression is maintained.
Develop even one additional theory to compete with your original theory.
Use surveys to see whether other people have the same thoughts.
Keep records of experiments.
Your thoughts, no matter how distressing and negative, are not the real problem.
Rather, the importance or meaning you attach to those thoughts is what causes you the problem.
Task concentration involves paying less attention to what’s going on inside of you and more attention to what’s happening outside of you.
Concentrate harder on different aspects of the external environment.
Be both task- and environment-focused rather than self-focused, even in situations that you regard as highly threatening.
Direct your attention away from yourself, but not distracting yourself from your sensations or suppressing your thoughts.
If you’re suffering from anxiety, you’re probably self-focused in social situations and fail to notice the rest of the world.
Re-train your attention onto the outside world to help interrupt yourself from engaging with the stream of negative thoughts that accompanies depression.
Mindfulness is a technique for dealing with depression.
Keep your attention focused on the moment that you’re experiencing right now.
Suspend your judgement about what you’re feeling, thinking, and absorbing through your senses.
Simply observe what’s going on around you, in your mind, and in your body without doing anything.
Your mind almost mechanically forms judgements about each of your experiences, labelling them as good, bad, or neutral depending on how you value them.
But you may ignore neutral things or deem them to be boring.
Feeling intense sadness can prompt you to do things to improve your situation, but depression’s more likely to lead to your inaction and resignation.
Healthy emotions spring from flexible, preference-based thinking. So, thoughts and beliefs like ‘I prefer others to treat me respectfully, but they’re not bound to do so’
Meta-emotions can prevent you from dealing with your primary emotional problems. For example, you may be feeling guilty about having depression.
Write down a plan of your daily activities and stick to doing them regardless of your mood, to help you achieve balance and consistency.
Stick to a daily schedule of activities can help you avoid being under-stimulated during lows (thereby combating a downward spiral into depression) and help you avoid becoming over-stimulated during highs (thereby preventing an upward spiral into hypomania).
The problematic behaviours that maintain or worsen emotional problems are the very behaviours that people use to help themselves cope - hence the common CBT expression ‘your solution is the problem’.
Coping strategies may make you feel better in the short-term but that they are actually counterproductive - they can make things worse in the long-term.
Short-term relief is reinforcing the very beliefs and behaviours that underpin your problems.
Turn a counterproductive strategy on its head.
Do the polar opposite of your established coping strategies.
Doing only what you feel like doing when you are depressed is likely to maintain or worsen your symptoms.
Instead, try doing the opposite of what your depression directs you towards doing.
Feel better, get worse. Feel worse, get better.
(when referring to overcoming emotional problems.)
Hiding things about yourself - such as imperfections in your appearance, childhood experiences, mistakes from the past, or current psychological difficulties - can make you feel chronically insecure that someone may ‘find you out’. Hiding shameful aspects of your experiences also denies you the opportunity to find out that other people have similar experiences, and that they won’t think any less of you for revealing your secrets.
Putting off essential tasks may save you some discomfort in the short term, but undone tasks also tend to weigh heavily on your mind.
The purpose of therapy is to help you achieve your goals.
CBT is whatever helps you move from your problems to your goals.
Observable: Try to include in your goal a description of a behavioural change that you can observe.
You first need to define the problem.
Define how you want to feel as an alternative.
You may decide that you want to feel sad and disappointed, rather than depressed and hurt.
Feeling negative emotions about negative events is realistic and appropriate.
Be wary of being influenced too easily by whatever’s foremost in your mind. (Mercurial desires)
Rumination is a circular thought process in which you go over the same things again and again, trying to work out the root cause.
Rumination is compelling because your depressed mood tells you that you must try to get to the bottom of why you feel bad.
Rumination can take hold during activities if you’re acting mindlessly rather than mindfully
Brainstorm solutions to your problem.
You often form your core beliefs when you’re a child to help you make sense of your childhood experiences.
After you’ve identified a situation that brings up negative emotions, ask yourself what the situation means or says about you. Your first answer is probably your negative automatic thought (NAT). Keep asking yourself what your previous answer means or says about you until you reach a global, absolute statement.
Use the same technique to get to your core beliefs about other people and the world. Just keep asking yourself what your NAT means about others or the world. Ultimately, you can end up with a conclusive statement that is your core belief.
Imagine your worst nightmare. Think of dream scenarios that wake you up screaming.
Somewhere in these terrifying scenarios may be one or more of your core beliefs.
Before your new positive beliefs are really stuck in your head and heart, you need to act as if they’re already there.
Integrate your new method of thinking with your mind, emotions, and actions.
Endorse your new belief or raise your strength of conviction.
It’s enough to know in your head that your new belief makes sense and then act according to your new belief or philosophy.
If you consistently do the ‘acting as if’ technique, which we explain here, your conviction in your new way of thinking is likely to grow over time.
How would I behave if I truly considered my new belief to be true?
If a new belief makes sense to you, follow it up with action.
Generate arguments against an unhelpful belief.
Generate sound arguments to support alternative, more helpful ways of thinking.
Go into familiar situations where your old attitudes are typically triggered, and act according to your new way of thinking.
When you start to recover from some types of emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessions, you may find that you have a considerable amount of spare time available to you, which previously your symptoms took up.
Indeed, you may be astounded to find out just how much energy, attention, and time, common psychological difficulties can actually consume.