5 CBT techniques that EVERYONE should know
Breaking down CBT and how it can help you
The term “cognitive behavioural therapy” can seem frightening at first. In a world where there is still so much stigma against mental health, seeing such a clinical-looking phrase can put you right off finding out what it means. When I first saw the term three years ago, my head immediately jumped to the conclusion “I don’t need therapy!” and that was the end of that. Fortunately for me though, a friend who had always looked out for my best interests convinced me to attend a CBT seminar a few months later and that’s when an exciting new chapter in my life began. Why? Because it changed my negative thinking forever.
You see, although dictionary definitions of CBT like to emphasise that it is a psychotherapy designed to treat various mental and emotional disorders, I found it to be much more universal than that. Attending the seminar, I was struck at how useful these techniques could be for everyone – because you don’t need to have an anxiety disorder to get stressed and you don’t have to be diagnosed with depression to experience sadness or hopelessness. Just like we are taught at school to exercise to prevent physical diseases, so everyone could do with knowing CBT to stop mental illnesses from developing in the first place. Why wait till your brain is a wreck to learn skills that can change your negative thoughts and behaviours for the better?
So without further ado, here are 5 CBT techniques that I have found effective in combating everyday stress and anxiety:
1. The Court Case Method
When you’re feeling upset, it is so easy to spring into explosive all-consuming thoughts like “I’m stupid”, “everyone hates me” and “I don’t deserve support”. These feelings, however, are very unhealthy to keep onto. That’s where the court case method comes in. Write down everything you’re thinking and feeling (or even list it in your head) and then systematically go through the factual evidence for each thought and the factual evidence against.
You’ll be surprised at how often the only evidence for is “because I said so”, whereas the evidence against speaks the truth. It will remind you that one mistake doesn’t equate to being an idiot. It will show you that having friends and family means you are liked. It will prove to you that everyone deserves support and hopefully, it’ll make you feel better!
2. Will it matter… ?
This is a very simple technique to undertake when worrying. It helps separate whether your worries are worth contemplating right there and then or if it’s something that you shouldn’t waste any more time thinking about. Simply ask yourself, “Will it matter in 5 years’ time?”, “Will it matter in a year?”, “Will it matter in a week?” and “Will it matter tomorrow?”. If your answer is “no” to every single question, then you really shouldn’t give your worry another thought.
Here’s an example. Say you’re on your way to work and you’re late. You start cursing and condemning yourself for not getting up earlier. But then you ask yourself, “Will it matter tomorrow?”. The answer is “no, it won’t” because you don’t make a habit of being late and you can just stay at work longer to make up for the time lost. Tomorrow is a new day and you’ll get in at the right time and you will do so on the next day and the next. So there’s no point worrying, is there?
3. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend
This technique is great at problem solving or when you’re feeling down. It involves giving yourself the same advice as you would to a friend if they were going through the exact same situation as you. It’s surprising how harsh and cruel we are towards ourselves when we’re in a fix, yet if a friend were going through the same thing, we’d give them nothing but encouragement and support. By talking to yourself as a friend, you spend more time and energy focusing on solutions to your problems rather than worrying and beating yourself up over them. So be your own best friend – you’re worth it!
4. The Worry Tree
This method is a great way to determine how to deal with specific worries that you may have. It breaks your worries down into small steps and helps you decide what to do when your brain is too stressed to act itself. Ask yourself the questions in the diagram below and by hopefully getting this outside, removed perspective, you will know when it is time to deal with a worry and when it is time to let go. As the diagram shows, the ultimate goal is to always to let it go. Don’t forget that!
5. The 5-4-3-2-1 Method
This is a grounding technique that stems from mindfulness, a concept that is all about staying in the present moment and discarding past or future worries that may be hounding you. When you might not be in an adequate space to practice meditation (look into Headspace for an excellent guided course that includes a free trial), this method is extremely effective in bringing you back to earth. It consists of acknowledging and consciously examining 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. By engaging all 5 senses, you break free from what’s going on inside your head and can really appreciate the surroundings around you. It’s a great way of putting things into perspective and opening your mind to present opportunities that you might have not noticed otherwise.
And that’s a wrap! Easy, huh? So the next time you succumb to stress and worrying, why not give them a go! Because if you know that training your body makes you happier and healthier, why not exercise your mind?