CBT Technique: How to Change Automatic Thoughts

Do you ever find yourself reacting negatively?

I hate to admit that I’m my own worst enemy, and will always put myself down even if there’s no reason to.

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m a disappointment.”

“Everyone thinks that I’m annoying.”

“I’ll be fired over this little thing.”

I am also guilty of overgeneralization, emotional reasoning and jumping to conclusions. I could go back to my years of trauma for blame, but even though I’m in a much better place (and quite happy), I am conditioned to thinking negatively. It interferes with my self-esteem, confidence and performance.

It’s been hard to change my way of thinking since it affects almost every aspect of my life,

An example: I’m always nervous and scared when it comes to my work evaluations. When my boss compliments me, I am still utterly anxious because I feel that he is noticing my work. Why am I anxious? Because there’s a possibility that he may find a mistake, fire me and I won’t be able to get another job.

I jump to the worst conclusions and don’t even take the genuine compliment to heart.

My automatic thought was a quick and strong reaction that comes through words, images or memories. To help identify my automatic thought, I need to take a step back and figure out why I am currently feeling this way.

What are some questions to help identify automatic thoughts?

  • What was going through my mind just before I started to feel this way? Was I anxious previous to this?
  • What images or memories do I have in this situation? Have I been fired before?
  • What does this mean about me? My life?
  • What am I afraid might happen?
  • What is the worst that COULD happen?
  • What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/think(s) about me?
  • What does this mean about the other people in general?
  • Did I break the rules, hurt others, or not do something I should have done? What do I think about myself that I did this or believe I did this?

Some of these questions won’t apply to you, and that’s ok. This is a general guideline on identifying your thoughts associated with your distress. These are here to help you understand your emotional reaction/moods. Different moods can be related to your situation: Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Guilt or Shame.
In my example above, I’m anxious.

My therapist would ask me to associate a percentage towards my mood; I would say that I’m 80% nervous and 90% anxious.

It took me years to figure out how to re-wire my brain, but I am pleased to confirm that I can now stop mid anxious thought to bring down those percentages to at least 40% (Any number lower than 90% is a win in my book!)
Automatic Thought

Sometimes though, I will still focus on one negative detail of an interaction instead of seeing the whole picture. I feel like most people are guilty of thinking this way – and I’m just here to say that it’s ok! The point is as long as you recognize what you’re doing, you’re one step closer to changing your automatic thoughts. This isn’t something that you can fix overnight. This requires a committed effort to change.

Now when I go into a performance review, I am still a little nervous, but I do accept a compliment even though I am red in the face. I’ve tried to change my perspective as well as trying to visualize the situation beforehand. Preparation has usually helped; when I feel in control of my words, I feel as if I’m being heard not only from others but from my inner voice.

I can do it

If you’d like to learn more or gain worksheets to outline your thoughts (these have helped me!), I highly suggest the book “Mind Over Mood.”

One of the many techniques that I’ve learned over the years from professionals is exposure therapy. The majority of my anxiety comes from large crowds, and my latest therapist told me to overcome the fear and danger I would need to immerse myself in it.

The day after that session, I went to our local mall and just sat in the center of all the hustle and bustle. I could feel my throat starting to close up as many people bumped into me and my immediate decision was to leave and try again at another point. I fought that decision and continued to sit in that spot for roughly an hour. By the end of it, I felt drained, but I was quite proud that I was able to combat my automatic thoughts

Unfortunately, I know many people who wouldn’t even fathom doing something like this alone. I don’t blame you! It took me many years and a lot more sessions to be able to love and trust myself to be self-reliant. There is no harm in needing that extra help, and I’m quite pleased to say that a great friend of mine is helping combat this issue with a remarkable improve class for anxiety.

He and I share many things in common, especially our need to help out our local community when it comes to mental health. I cannot stress enough how improv relates to exposure therapy and how it can make any social situation easier. I know that if you were to join us at one of these times, you’d be in great hands. I’m so incredibly proud of him for starting this class, and I cannot wait to join him in support!44792251_505971553146875_1871752494263042048_n

A little over a year ago, a friend of the family came to me with some advice knowing that I was struggling. Automatically, my guard went up. I started to become defensive about the situation and chose to ignore what she was saying. I politely asked her to leave my house, and without hesitation, she agreed. When she left, I went straight to my husband asking what her intentions were and all he said was “Andrea, she was just trying to help, can’t you see that?” When I looked back on the exact words that she said, her demeanor and how she approached me with caution I felt sick to my stomach. She was utterly genuine, and I was an ass by choosing to deflect as I’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

no idea how to respond

I apologized the next day profusely to her and thanked her for being concerned. I couldn’t believe that after years of therapy that I was still struggling to put my guard down. One of the techniques used in CBT Therapy is to catch yourself in an automatic thought before you react to it. I was upset at myself up over not being able to do it in this instance. I know that it’s only normal and it will most likely happen again, so, I try not to let it affect me as much as usual (easier said than done!)

Do you ever find yourself confused over a compliment, too? I do when it comes to something personal. Take for example this blog, one of my aunts came up to me recently and told me that my mother would have been proud of me for starting this. I stood there in a daze. With a little whisper I managed to say “Thank You” and my cheeks flustered. When you always talk yourself down as I do, it’s hard to know how to respond to positivity.

Akward when someone compliments me

When I thought about it more that night, I wish I could have said more to my aunt; to thank her for thinking of my mother, the kind words and how I too think she would have been proud. (Seriously, thank you, Susan)

My anxiety will never entirely go away, and I’ve come to accept that over the years. I do wish that I was a little better at receiving help or getting a compliment, though. I can only hope that over time it will get better, but in the meantime, I feel like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights.

 

This past weekend I went to a housewarming party. I go to these with my husband, but due to his work schedule, I was to go alone. PANIC. I don’t normally go to parties alone, especially when I only know a handful of people. Immediately I started to think of excuses of how to get out of it. My brain automatically does this, regardless if I want to go or not. I REALLY wanted to go: I haven’t seen my friend in a LONG time, I’ve never been to her house, and she has a baby on the way, so I’m not sure how often I’ll see her in the long run.

Since my husband would be home later in the evening, I made the drive out to her place with the full intent to come back home and spend some quality time with him. I made it on time, which I normally do so I can talk with the hosts. Luckily not a lot of people were there, and it made my anxiety subside.

At one point both of the hosts were in other rooms either giving a tour or pouring drinks, leaving me with two other couples in the living room. The room was a little silent, so I jokingly said loudly “Awkward silence!” which did not bode well with the others. They all glanced at me at the same time which made my throat close up. Tough crowd. My anxiety said to stay silent for the remainder of the time that I was there. I excused myself to the kitchen and poured myself some water for my dry throat. I didn’t have my husband to bring me down from my anxiety, but I was determined to stick it out for my friend.

Even though my visit was short and my anxiety did come through, I’m quite proud of myself for staying. As the party went on a couple of acquaintances came through, and I was happy to say hi to them as a welcomed distraction from my idiotic attempt at being funny. When I got home, I ran through that “Awkward silence!” possibly twenty times in my head, bashing myself for even trying to be funny. Unfortunately, this will never escape me, and I’ve come to accept it. Do I regret going to this party? No. Pushing through things that make you uncomfortable is the only way that you can grow as a person. Will I yell out “Awkward Silence!” Again? Most likely – I am Anxious Andrea after allsocial-anxiety-toronto-1

I took the day off yesterday, and I don’t feel terrible about it.

After working throughout the holidays and even dragging my ass out of bed on Boxing Day I know I needed it.

Yes, I woke up extra early on December 26th riddled with anxiety. I was taking over a co-workers responsibility that I’ve never done before, so I wanted to make sure I got in earlier. I Filled up my tank with the gas card I got in my stocking in -29 weather (Thanks, Mum!), caffeinated my tired body & sat at my desk for a full 40 minutes before I checked the holiday schedule… ARE YOU KIDDING ME I CAN BE IN BED RIGHT NOW??

It’s taken me a long time to laugh at myself in these situations, but I did:

Status

I have my therapy to thank for this. When seeing my psychotherapist at TS Medical Centre, we went through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT for short) which encourages you to become aware of the connections between your thoughts and behaviors. It was hard at first to re-wire my brain, but ‘Automatic Thoughts’ have now become ingrained.
When I realized that I came into the office for no reason, my heart rate increased. Before allowing my anxiety to take over (again), I stopped my thought process.

“Why is your heart racing, Andrea? What’s triggering this? You didn’t do anything wrong!”
“You’re right! You did NOTHING wrong, mistakes happen!”

I packed up my bag and bolted straight home but not before I shared my experience with friends.

If this were to happen to me years ago, I probably would have gotten frustrated with myself and fill my head with negative nonsense. I wouldn’t have told people what happened at the sheer thought of them laughing at my mistakes. Being hard on yourself continually is not healthy, and I’m glad that I realized what I was doing before I went spiraling down.
I’m glad that my ‘silly’ has come back in full force and that I can laugh at my imperfections – I hope you can too!