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I Feel Anxious. How Can I Cope? Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced various coping skills for managing anxiety. I hope you had a chance to try out those techniques. Now, I will discuss strategies to understand, challenge and reframe maladaptive thoughts. This approach is rooted in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

At its core, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is about changing the way we think and behave in order to reduce anxiety. It operates on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all interconnected, and by addressing one, we can influence the others. The first step is identifying negative thought patterns. As human beings, we have a constant stream of thoughts. Many of these thoughts occur at the subconscious level. By bringing awareness to negative thought patterns that fuel anxiety, you can learn to challenge and reframe them, ultimately replacing anxious thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones. Some examples of negative thought patterns include, but are not limited to catastrophizing and all-or-nothing thinking. Catastrophizing is expecting the worst-case scenario and all–or-nothing thinking is seeing things in black and white. For example, all good or all bad.

 

Thought Log

A valuable tool in this process is a thought log. This is a place for you to record your thoughts, feelings and reactions. There’s not a “correct” approach to maintaining a thought log. It is about discovering what works best for you, whether it is jotting down thoughts on your phone throughout the day, or keeping a notebook and pen with you to identify triggering situations and associated thoughts. A thought log can bring your attention to unhelpful thought patterns and themes that have gone unnoticed previously. This awareness is powerful. When you are aware of your thoughts, you are one step closer to having a sense of control over your anxiety. Another benefit of maintaining a thought log, is that it tracks your progress over time. Looking back at your thought log and reflecting on growth can provide you with the motivation and confidence to keep moving forward on this journey.

 

Thought Challenging and Reframing

A thought log is a tool that can be used to help challenge and reframe your thoughts. I often encourage my clients to “put their thoughts to trial”. This metaphorical trial involves the examination of anxious thoughts. Through this process, you learn to challenge the validity of your thoughts and explore realistic alternatives. This helps you to approach your thoughts with curiosity and skepticism, rather than taking them at face value. Similar to prepping for a trial, gather evidence to support and refute your negative thoughts. First, you might want to ask yourself:

What evidence supports this thought or what proof do I have that this thought is true?

Now, it’s time to explore alternative explanations. You might ask yourself:

  • What evidence contradicts this thought?
  • Am I basing my thought off of feelings or assumptions? If yes, what are those feelings and assumptions?
  • How else could I interpret the situation?
  • How might someone else view the situation?
  • What advice would I give to a friend?

After exploring alternative explanations, ask yourself the following question:

Based on the evidence and lack thereof, is there a more rational thought in response to the situation?

Counseling That Helps Your Mental Health

With rational thinking comes more manageable feelings and adaptive behaviors. In order to be most effective, the cognitive restructuring techniques need to be practiced frequently and consistently, in conjunction with the coping skills discussed in Part 1. In the last part of this blog series, I will delve further into core beliefs and acceptance. If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, please contact Symmetry Counseling at (312)578-9990 or visit https://www.symmetrycounseling.com/.

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