I remember my first group therapy session quite well. It was more of a social gathering at a local community centre with other families who lost an immediate family member. They split us into two groups; all the adults went to a separate room while the ‘kids’ stayed behind. I say ‘kids’ because there was no specific age range, I was roughly twelve years old at the time, yet there were both older and younger people surrounding me.
We all gathered in a circle, and each took turns speaking about our loved ones. The thought of me talking in front of strangers was making me anxious. Still, as we went through the different stories, my anxiety lessened. Knowing that others went through something similar seemed to make my grief manageable. When it came time for me to speak, I wasn’t as ‘squeaky’ as I usually was in situations – I still cried as I reminisced about my mother, but it was a lot softer than usual.

I made a friend that day, who turned out to be so much more. Her name was Jennifer, and she lost her father. We were able to talk openly, and it was welcomed. I was still unable to open up to my adoptive father fully. Little to our surprise, both of our parents hit it off and started dating. When that relationship failed, we lost contact almost immediately. It was a hard blow, especially since I was beginning to consider her like a sister and I never fully understood what happened. Of course, thanks to social media, we recently reconnected, and it was if we never stopped talking. I can’t wait for her to meet my little one once we’re out of this pandemic.

When I look back on the group therapy sessions, she’s the first thing that comes to mind. Of course, the therapy aspect was helpful, but finding someone else who was going through the same thing was priceless.

I’m honoured to say that over the last few weeks, I’ve partnered with Pay What You Can Group Therapy.
Their mission is almost identical to mine, to support others seeking mental health care. The concept is simple – it’s free group therapy that is monitored by licensed professionals. If you enjoyed and/or found value in any of the sessions, they ask you pay what you can!
It’s been a pleasure working with the team, and I hope that you all can take advantage of FREE group therapy starting tonight, July 21st.

 

It’s hard to ask for help, but luckily in today’s society, there’s an app for that!

Even though I preach of talking to others, its hard to take that first step to open up about what we struggle with. I blog openly about it so others can be inspired to do the same, but if you’re still not brave or bold enough, try some of these apps to help you out!

Please keep in mind that some of these apps do have in-store purchases, so please review them before downloading and using – Make sure you get the app that’s right for you!

CBT Thought Diary
CBT Companion
CBT Nuggets
DBT Coach
Mindshift CBT
Moodpath
Quirk CBT
Sanvello
Woebot
Wysa
Youper

For Mindfulness
Aura
Balance: Meditation
Breathe: Meditation & Sleep
Calm
Headspace
Insight Timer
The Mindfulness App
Mindfulness Coach
#Mindful
Mindfulness with Petit Bambou
Reflectly
Smiling Mind

For Journaling

Daylio Journal
Happy Feed
Moody
Mood App
Mood Panda
Moodwell

Do you have any suggestions to add? Please comment below!

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.”

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.

 

One of the biggest complications that anyone has with anxiety is ‘staying in the moment.’ When our body rushes with an emotion we tend to focus on the present. You need to remember that feelings are fluid and they will inevitably change. One thing that my psychotherapist mentioned over and over again was to write my expectations on how I’ll feel once my anxious thoughts pass:

“I am feeling nervous/anxious about my presentation at work but I expect to feel calm and collected once it’s over”

I would get into writing these out almost every session with her until it became a habit. Writing out how you expect your feelings to improve and recognizing your first indication of anxiety has a calming effect. If you feel you cannot express yourself properly during these incidents don’t get discouraged. It took me a year to be able to – try small at first. Ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” and if “Anger” is the only thing that pops into your mind, either say it out loud or write it down.

Being unaware or suppressing our feelings can lead to feeling numb and exhausted. You need to remember that whatever you DO feel is neither right nor wrong, they just simply exist. Stop ignoring or withholding them as it can lead to physical ailments such as tension in muscles, headaches and can go to extremes of ulcers and cardiac problems
Feelings do shift

If you are in touch with your feelings and can express them, you will feel more energetic (I promise!).
Eventually, I was able to stop myself mid-thought and acknowledge my anxiety but focus on how my feelings will change. Just remember: feelings shift!

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!