Be Your Own Best Helper Using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Updated: Jan 8
All of us are on the journey to being our own best helper, whether we realise it or not.
What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy? Cognitive Behaviour Therapy recognises how our thoughts, feelings, physical reactions and behaviour interact and impact on each other. Tools and techniques inherent in CBT can be learned and used every day in our lives to help us through many issues we face. This might be in relation to how we think or what we do about a situation that is happening now or occurs unexpectedly.
Or it could be in relation to a belief that that is causing harm or distress. It can be used to respond to a distressing feeling or unhelpful reaction - for example, acting in anger, feeling anxious, or being hurt by somebody's behaviour.
For example, after perceiving that we have been spoken to in an offensive manner, we may feel anger and start to notice it in our body – tension rising. Having learned that it is not helpful to respond when we feel like this, we know, through experience, to focus on our breath for a few minutes, or walk away to cool down.
Then we may start to reason that we cannot control how another person behaves, even if we do feel strongly about it. And then realise it is much more constructive to be in a calm head space if and when we do respond. We now feel annoyed, rather than the raw anger we felt earlier.
During the workshops I have conducted, people regularly tell me that it awakened them to the fact that they are 'natural' self-therapists. I am sure that every single one of us has, in the past, altered thinking processes or behaviour; or found a way to regulate emotions to help get through a difficult situation or to achieve a goal.
Have you ever manged to help yourself by changing how you thought and behaved to help you through? Take time to think about how you managed this? What did you think, and how did you behave that supported you?
Imagine the following
The 'Dreaded' Job interview Imagine being invited to be interviewed for your ideal job. You are somewhat surprised, since you thought there would be a huge amount of competition and you did not think you had much of a chance of an interview. Vividly imagine having the following response You immediately feel extremely fearful and anxious and your head starts spinning. At the same time, you are thinking that there is no way you can attend this interview. You believe you will look stupid and make a fool of yourself, and say to yourself 'why would they want me when there are undoubtedly so many more competent candidates?' These thoughts and beliefs don't change over the next few days. Your head starts to spin and you feel like throwing up whenever you think about it. You consistently respond by distracting yourself and putting the telly on rather than thinking about it or preparing. You cancel the interview two days before it is due to take place and feel a huge sense of relief.
But in the weeks and months that follow, you start to berate yourself and feel like a failure for not trying your best.
Can you see how your perception of the situation, alongside your thoughts, feelings and reactions interacted and impacted on you in a negative, disabling way?
Now imagine having the following response to exactly the same situation You immediately feel fearful at the prospect of attending the interview and your heart starts beating fast. You think you may start to have a panic attack, but you catch your breath in time. You focus on your breath and manage to slow it down. You wonder why they would want you when you believe your qualifications are not quite up to scratch. However, you later start to think that they must see something in you, otherwise they would not invite you to attend. So you give yourself the best chance you can to succeed, and over the next week, go through possible questions and answers. At the same time, you tell yourself that whether or not you get the job, preparing and attending the interview will be a valuable experience in itself for the future. Whenever you start to feel any signs of anxiety or fear you calm yourself down by listening to soothing music and focusing on your breath. You remind yourself that the experience is in your best interests. You constantly repeat the thought "I am good enough to get through this okay. I can cope and it will be well worth it to cope!". Consequently, you attend the interview and feel proud of yourself for being so well prepared and in control.
How easy is it to use CBT on ourselves? In reality, we have often been conditioned over a long period of time, even since childhood, to see the world in a certain way. This may result in, for example, feelings of anxiety that immobilises us and prevents us from obtaining a goal or ambition; or angry responses that ostracise ourselves from others.
We might unfairly judge ourselves or others as not being good enough; or we may have perfectionist tendencies that can put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to get things 'just right'.
Having awareness of what is going on personally, and the desire to change, is a fantastic starting point. Below are just a few of my favourite tools and techniques that may help in your journey.
The links at the bottom of the page take you to what, in my opinion, are some great resources you can use to help yourself.
Some tools and techniques
STOP: Catch the thought / emotion / behaviour
Observe: What am I thinking/doing? What can I think or do differently?
Proceed using the new thoughts and behaviour
Use your breath as an anchor
Experiment with this. When you feel stress or anxiety, or any other emotion that is causing you difficulty - try catching your breath and focusing on it for at least a minute - several minutes if you can. What do you notice?
Personally speaking, it often allows me to observe my thoughts objectively, and realise what a controlling influence they are having. It calms me, and helps me to gain a better perspective.
Release tension by focusing on your senses
Being inside our body may feel like too much, so it can help to focus on something outside ourself instead.
Sometimes I just focus on the clouds in the sky, or listen to some music and concentrate only on the music.
Or go for a walk and try to really centre myself on the surroundings: the sights, sounds, sensations, shapes and colours.
Or I might just bring myself to my immediate environment as my point of focus.
Try this experiment. When you feel stress or pressure, etc; listen to calming or joyful music for at least 20 minutes, Concentrate only on on the music. Thoughts will appear, but this is normal, just bring yourself back to the music whenever you realise. Afterwards, notice the difference in how you feel.
What do you tell yourself?
Catch yourself on when your thoughts are not helpful to you. What are you telling yourself? Ask yourself: Is this thought true? What evidence do I have to back this up?
Is it helpful for me to think like this: what are the consequences when I think like this? What might happen if I STOP thinking like this?
Is my thinking logical? Does it make sense to think that because I feel afraid, then in reality I have something to fear?
Think about what constructive thoughts and beliefs you could have instead.
Remember, thoughts and beliefs do not change overnight after a lifetime of conditioning. Remind yourself of the new thought regularly.
Sharing your experience
Do you have an experience or a technique you use yourself that could benefit others?
If so, would you consider sharing it with us?
Links to External Websites and Books
Below, I have detailed a range of web sites and books that may assist.
Get Self Help
This site is a great resource. It offers fabulous information, self help courses, and allows you to download simple forms that may be helpful for a range of problems.
Centre for Clinical Interventions is an excellent site, providing CBT self help tools for a range of problems, including anxiety, low self esteem, procrastination and depression.
For an introduction, information and advice on Mindfulness, I recommend a good starting point at www.mindfulnet.org
'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway' by Susan Jeffers (1987) is a brilliant classic.
Windy Dryden’s short, effective and easy to read book entitled ‘Ten Steps to Positive Living' explains how you can transform some common unhelpful thinking and beliefs.