Okay, so I’ve had enough of reading about the coronavirus. Anyone else? Good. Let’s take our minds off of this for just a second, and we’ll discuss something that’s very important to me.
I want to introduce you all to cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the American Psychological Association, “cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness.”
My therapist and I have been using this approach in therapy, and it has helped tremendously in my journey of understanding and navigating my battle with anxiety and depression. Because it’s been so helpful for me, I’m hoping that by sharing a worksheet that I’ve created that helps me work through my thoughts, you’ll benefit from this, too! I know that not everyone has easy access to a therapist, and you may not even feel comfortable going to a therapist, but it’s important that you get the help that you need, even if that means trying safe and healthy methods on your own. Now, I’m not saying that being your own therapist is better than a trained, licensed professional. You all know by now that I’m a huge advocate for going to therapy — I’m saying that this is a great thing to try if you don’t have access to one.
I was given a worksheet during my sessions that helped me work through my thoughts. I found that creating my own was more effective for me because I was able to tailor it to what works best for me. If you want to give it a try, you can find worksheets like this online and print them off, but I find that it’s better to make your own. Here is what mine looks like:
So, every time something happens that makes me feel anxious or depressed, I pull out this sheet and work through the thoughts in my head. What I’m going to do now is walk you through the benefits of each column on my list.
- Logging the date and time helps you keep track of reoccurring patterns. Once you start filling these worksheets out more and more, you’ll begin to see a trend. For example, you may notice that your depression spells usually come at night right before bed or maybe around midday. Once you recognize those patterns, you’ll become more mindful of what you’re doing that can possibly trigger these feelings.
- Logging the situation is essential. When you look back on these sheets, it will help you see if there are patterns in what types of situations make you feel anxious or depressed. Is it often after a conversation with a specific person? Is it always right before you walk into your office at work?
- This is the most important one for me. Logging your feelings and the intensity of those feelings helps you be mindful of what is going on in your mind. For example, you might notice that on three different occasions, you felt frustrated after you spoke with X, and the intensity of frustration was about 90%. It can really help you understand your emotions a bit better than you might have been able to previously.
- Related to those emotions that you’re feeling, log in what your body is physically doing in response to the situation. You may notice that you constantly grind your teeth when you’re frustrated or that you often bounce your leg repeatedly when you feel unappreciated.
- Lastly, it’s important to write down an alternative way of thinking. This one may be tricky to understand, but hear me out. What you’re thinking in a time of high stress is most likely not the most balanced way of thinking. I’ll be the first to admit it. So, take yourself out of the equation and ask yourself, what advice would I give my best friend if they were going through this situation? Is this a more balanced perspective or way of thinking? Can I realistically follow my own advice? If you work through this and really give it your all, you’ll calm yourself down and feel much differently about the situation overall. Now, this won’t work every time, but it’s a great thing to try! For your own worksheet, you can even add another column that asks you to log in how you feel and the intensity of your new emotions after the alternative way of thinking!
This is has been so fruitful in my understanding of the way I think and the way that my body responds to the world around me. If you think that making your own worksheet will benefit you or someone around you, I encourage you to make one for yourself or share this with someone who can really get a lot out of this. It’s going to be hard at first. Trust me — it’s like looking your fears square in the eye without any armor or weapons to defend yourself. But, once you let yourself be vulnerable and maybe even a little uncomfortable, you will slowly get better.
“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”
— Shannon L. Alder