While “thinking outside of the box” is a great way to solve problems, how do you do that when it feels like life’s boxing you in?
There’s no need to run the laundry list of today’s stressors. Suffice to say, the “What me, worry?” stance is nearly impossible to maintain in the dumpster fire that is 2020.
Rather than go up in flames, now’s the time to train your brain to deal with tough situations calmly. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a clinically proven technique to help you flip a switch on negative or flawed thinking and better respond to challenges.
What is CBT?
The crux of CBT is learning to discern between the stories your mind tells so you can make healthier choices. In a recent interview with CBT pioneer Dr. Judith Beck, she explains how misperceptions can fuel misery:
The truth is that if you’re under a lot of stress or experiencing difficulties, how you think about a particular situation may not always be very helpful. Sometimes, your thinking can be inaccurate, or you can get so caught up in your thoughts that it becomes an unhealthy cognitive cycle of either continual self-criticism, obsessive thinking, or depressive rumination.
As someone who used CBT to overcome an early adulting-induced anxiety disorder, I can attest to how easily the fight-flight-freeze impulse kicks in over perceived threats. By monitoring your moods and behavior, you can question your thoughts and respond more clearly and calmly.
Start putting CBT into action by viewing negative thoughts through an observer’s lens. Look for evidence supporting the thought, and consider if you can see it differently. For perspective, ask yourself what you’d tell a friend in the same situation.
Dr. Beck offers several constructive approaches to challenge your thinking:
- Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Dig into the best and worst outcomes. Since extremes are rare, you can now envision coping with a realistic middle situation.
- Control what you can, such as habits, schedules, and importantly, self-care.
- Accept discomfort, and forgo dwelling on negative thoughts. As my mediation teacher says, “Don’t water the weeds.”
- Listen to your body. An intense physical sensation, like a racing heartbeat or lightheadedness (two of my cues), that’s not from exercise or illness, can be anxiety-induced. Consider whatever’s stressing you out most, and see if the physical symptoms diminish. If so, you’ve got your culprit, and if not, keep probing.
And always remember, worry is optional, and wellness is too. The choice is yours if you think about it.
Can You Think Your Way to Wellbeing? (Psychology Today)