F – Feelings

 

Feelings are powerful. They dictate our actions, behaviours and beliefs – fact. They are so powerful that we have no control over them – not fact.  When we exercise power over our feelings we are choosing, to a much greater extent, how we feel. Our feelings are largely influenced by our thoughts and our thoughts are the result of our previous experiences, influences and beliefs in any situation. Therefore if you have learned to feel guilty if somebody around you is upset, you will most likely feel guilty. If your first reaction to perceived aggression is to retaliate in anger then you will become angry. 

So how can we go about reacting differently?  The simplest way is to change our thoughts.  And that’s where things become interesting.  We have ultimate control over our thoughts.  Nobody else has any power at all over them, unless we we give them that power.  We can choose to perceive any situation, person or event in our own inimitable way.  In order to change our thoughts we have to know that we are capable of doing so.  If you believe a particular person will annoy you because he “always gets on my nerves” then chances are he is going to annoy you.  If you tell yourself that he isn’t going to affect you anymore, you have a very strong chance that he won’t. 

Give it a try. Next time you feel angry, sad, low, guilty, frustrated, envious, upset or offended, don’t react, pause for thought.  Literally.  Be aware of what is going around your head, and then consider changing those thoughts.  You can control your day to great effect if you get into the habit of re-thinking before re-acting.

I would love to hear your comments about this or any other of my blogs.  Please feel free to use the contact page.

E – Effort

 

As you read this, how much effort are you putting into it? Are you relaxed?  Or tense and conscious of the time it is taking you?  Are you reading it slowly because you are interested?  Or scanning through because you have a to-do list as long as your arm and you should really be getting on with something else?    

How much effort do you put into the following areas of your life?:

  1. Work/business/career/running a home?
  2. Your partner/children?
  3. Your friends and wider family?
  4. Your hobbies and interests?
  5. Your self and your own personal development?

Would I be right in saying that the majority of your efforts go into the first three categories?  Have you ever stopped to consider why this is?  Is it because you believe it is “selfish” to put your interests and your self before others?  Is it because you “don’t have the time” to think about your self, let alone actually have hobbies and interests? 

If you have just read the above and agreed with even some of it, then just stop for a moment and think (yes, you can spare a moment).  Whose life are you living?  Your bosses? Your clients? Your childrens? Husbands? Parents? … or Yours?  Who is the only person who can ever really know exactly what it is that ensures your happiness, peace of mind, contentment? And who is the only person who should really be expected to put in the time and commitment to ensure that happiness, peace of mind and contentment?

Putting a little effort into You will help to build your resilience, improve your self-esteem, your mood, your health and your relationships, it will have a dramatic effect on the whole of your life.

Food for thought … it just takes a little effort.  Every now and then take the above five categories and turn them upside down … It will do you good!

E – Emotions

 

Emotions are a form of energy that flows within our body/mind.  Right now your emotions  may be a raging torrent of anger, frustration or desperation, or maybe a gentle loving stream of contentment, or even a pool of calm and peacefulness. Whatever type of emotion is present within you, it will affect your thinking, your behaviour and your perception of the current moment. 

Just for a moment, take yourself back to a time when you felt very angry and it appeared that everything was against you. During that angry interlude, life felt like a battle: that nothing was going right. Now remember a time when you felt extremely happy and it felt like you were in the flow of life and everything felt good and right.  This is the power of your emotions. 

Although it is easy to believe that our emotions govern us, this is not actually true.  Our thoughts dictate our emotions, just as they dominate our beliefs and behaviours.  Our internal chattering translates into our emotions, leading to our behaviours.  The key to feeling contentment instead of frustration, and joy instead of anger, is to be more aware of our thoughts and to choose them wisely.  If you don’t want to be unhappy, you can learn to challenge those unhappy thoughts, release them and change them for neutral or happy thoughts. If you no longer wish to feel stuck, then lift the lid to your thoughts and allow yourself to create the answers you need for change in your life.  It may sound simple and that is because it is actually very straightforward. 

The real challenge is making the committment to changing your emotions and sticking to it.  With a little determination, some support from people around you and maybe some professional guidance, you can decide to choose your thoughts and manage your emotions successfully.

“You are the ultimate influence in your life. Inspire yourself wisely” – Maya Phillips, “Emotional Excellence.” 

 

E – Eating

 

You may wonder why I have chosen to include eating as a word associated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Well the connection between thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviours is never more clear than when we explore our eating habits.

Remember that CBT is all about becoming more aware of the effect our thoughts and beliefs have on our behaviours and emotions. In today’s modern world we are awash with opportunities to eat more and think less.  We wander around the shops in our local towns on a Saturday, passing increasing numbers of bakers, chip shops, burger bars, fast food shops, cafes, restaurants … the choice is seemingly limitless. We go home and sit in front of our television screen where we are shown advertisement after advertisement encouraging us to try this new food or that one. It is not surprising that we find ourselves giving in to temptation and eating something we hadn’t planned to, didn’t need to, and often didn’t really want to eat! 

 

So how can we reverse the trend and eat less and think more about what we are eating?

  • Cultivate a connection between your mind and your body.  Listening to your body means that you will be more aware of when you are actually hungry. This will encourage you to stop impulse eating when you are not genuinely hungry. 

 

  • Eat for energy not for entertainment. Don’t eat through boredom, find something interesting to occupy your attention instead.

 

  • Eat because your body needs nutrients, not because your emotions need support.  If you are feeling unhappy, eating for “pleasure” only ultimately results in you feeling unhappy and guilty because of your out of control eating habits.  Tackling your emotional and behavioural issues will mean that you no longer feel the need to use food as an emotional crutch.  (This is where the cognitive behavioural therapy comes in!)

 

  • Cultivate healthy eating habits: Eat smaller meals more regularly so that your digestive system does not get overloaded and you maintain a steady supply of energy to the body and brain.

 

  • Don’t be taken in by the hype. Foods which are promoted as being “time-saving” are either a drain on your finances or a drain on your health, or both.  Allocate time in your day to prepare meals yourself.  If you prepare them, you know what has gone into them, and probably more importantly, you know what has been left out.

 

  • Be aware of the physiological connection that our body/mind has with sugar, fat and simple carbohydrates such as white flour: The more we eat these types of foods, the more we set up pathways in the brain which then create cravings for more, thus creating a vicious circle in our subconscious.

 

  • Remember all the benefits of healthy eating:  Healthier bodies and  healthier minds.  We weren’t developed to eat chemical additives, and healthier eating patterns result in better weight management, increased self-confidence and self-esteem as a result of looking better, feeling better and knowing that you control your eating, not the other way round.

 

  • You will notice that as you begin to eat more healthily, your body/mind will gradually wean itself off the cravings for unhealthy foods and your subconscious will begin to “ask” for, and enjoy, more healthy foods.

Next time you are about to go in the bakers/chip shop or wherever, try this experiment in food awareness: Stop and ask yourself why you are going in.  Are you genuinely hungry? Does your body need that sort of food? Could you be kinder to your body and give it something it really needs, rather than something you feel you want?

D – Depression – Part Two

  

Avoiding Depression

Ok so what can we do to avoid depression?  The best approach to managing your mental health is to take a holistic view by encouraging good physical, mental and spiritual health.  Simply looking after your physical health in isolation from your mental and emotion health will not guarantee protection against depression, anxiety or stress. Having a spiritual view of life, one that gives you a purpose and a sense of meaning to life is also very important for good mental health.  Here are five top tips:

(1)  Cultivate a good support system of family and friends – who can be there for you when life gets difficult or throws a challenge your way.  We all need support from time to time and we should all trust ourselves enough to ask for support in times of difficulty.

(2)  Eat healthily – a healthy diet doesn’t just help to keep your weight manageable, it also helps to prevent against a number of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and a number of diet-related cancers such as: colon, breast, cervix, gall bladder, ovary, thyroid, kidney, prostate and esophagus.  The added benefit of ensuring that you are eating a nutritional diet is that your body will function at its optimal best which means that you will naturally feel better too.

(3)  Exercise – encourage those feel good endorphins by being active: Brisk walking, swimming, running, cycling, playing sports, going to the gym, running around with your children – even mowing the lawn or cutting the hedge count. Research shows that exercise results in: up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke; up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes; up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer; up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer; a 30% lower risk of early death and, a 30% lower risk of depression.

(4)  Go with the flow – people are at their happiest when they are fully engaged in a task that is interesting, challenging, and intrinsically rewarding to them. This is the experience of “losing yourself in the moment” or, as sports players say, “being in the zone.” Pitch the task correctly by choosing something that is challenging but achievable and then lose yourself in it. Immersing yourself in this way allows you to “switch off” from all your everyday concerns and experience a greater enjoyment of life.

(5)  Practice mindfulness, yoga and/or meditation – All or any of these practices will promote a deeper self-understanding which results in your being better able to appreciate and look after your Self.  When we are more self aware we are naturally better able to make choices that are good for us deep down without being so affected by external influences. Self-awareness builds trust in our own judgement and facilitates a happier level of being.

 Look after yourself and your Self will look after you!

 If you would like more information or some informal advice about depression or any other concern relating to thoughts, behaviours or feelings, please feel free to use the Contact Sarah page and I will get back to you.

D – Depression – Part One

 

Recognising Depression

It is now understood that one in four of us will suffer from depression at some stage in our lives. That is a pretty high statistic and so it can do no harm to be able to recognise some of the common symptoms of the onset of depression.  The following changes in mood or behaviour may be indications of depression.  If you are suffering from any of the following for more than a couple of weeks it is advisable to seek help and advice:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behaviour. You engage in escapist behaviour such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

There is no need to feel any shame or embarrassment associated with suffering from depression.  Depression, like asthma or a broken leg, is a medical condition, and like any medical condition it responds much better to prompt diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect that either your or somebody you know may be suffering from low mood or depression, a visit to your doctor is always a good idea. 

For information about how to avoid depression please look out for my blog entitled “Avoiding Depression” on Saturday.

C – Cognitive

Cognitive is the C in CBT and in the context of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it means exploring the mental processes that take place in our heads.  Examples of cognitions are: 

  • Thinking
  • Remembering
  • Problem solving
  • Realising
  • Day-dreaming
  • Beliefs
  • Understanding
  • Exploring
  • Conceptualising
  • Perception
  • Worrying
  • Obsessing
  • Ideas
  • Dreaming.

These thinking processes are the cause of everything we feel, and the way in which we behave. If we are thinking positive thoughts we feel content and we smile. If we are thinking negative thoughts we feel low and we frown. 

CBT helps people to explore these cognitions in order to “root out” the negative automatic thoughts (NATS) that are troubling them. Much of our thinking is below our conscious awareness which means that we may not be able to understand why we experience certain cognitions and why they lead to unwanted feelings and behaviours. By becoming consciously aware of our cognitions, and recognising that negative ones can be challenged and changed into neutral or more positive cognitions, we are in a much stronger position to find equilibrium and contentment.  

Remember:  If you want to change your life, change your thoughts.

 

 

C – Change (Part Two)

 

As humans, we naturally organise our lives into routines, habits and comfort zones because by doing that, we automatically reduce the likelihood of stress in our everyday lives.  We all have our own comfort zones, from that pair of comfy old slippers, to our hobbies, habits and routines and these are what makes our life our own.  We choose our friends and our pastimes, we choose what and when we eat and we choose what to belief and think (yes we do).  Choosing to change means taking ourselves outside our comfort zone, seeing things from a different perspective and learning new ways to think, feel and behave.

Even change that is considered to be positive, such as a new job or marriage, will still normally hold some degree of stress. How stressful we find it will be determined by our ability to cope with change and our levels of resilience.

People undergoing CBT therapy are actively wishing to change things within their lives, and yet, even though they are seeking change for positive reasons, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this change will be easy because change means learning new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.  Not easy for us habitual, controlling, comfort zone loving human beings!

Whether change is imposed or invited, remember:

  • Accept it – Fighting or denying something that is still going to happen won’t help. 
  • Face your fears – Be Honest with yourself about how you feel.
  • Talk to the other people who are affected by the change – make sure you are all on the same page as you explore your options.
  • Do a stock-take of your resources – depending upon the situation, this may be finances, time, skills or the support of others.
  • Anticipate stress – change is rarely easy, by anticipating stress you will be forewarned and forearmed.  If you struggle to deal effectively with stress you can seek help and information through CBT therapy or by attending a Stress Management Course.

Change helps us to develop and grow as human beings which makes change a positive force.  There is always a silver lining to every cloud, even if you cannot immediately see it!

 

 

C – Change (Part One)

 

Whilst some of us thrive on change and transformation, others will seek to avoid it. Our reaction to change will be the result of our life’s experiences to date. If you have experienced a lot of change in your life and dealt with it successfully, then you will find it easier to confront change the next time. If, however you have always sought to avoid change and found it frightening, confusing and difficult to adjust to, then you will continue to react in that way unless you decide to do something about it. Change is such a difficult concept for so many of us that companies often run change management programmes to help their employees cope when they are undergoing change within their organisation.

The reality is that change is a part of life, whether it be imposed change or wanted change.   

Major changes can be difficult to cope with and require the ability to adjust and accept to a new way of being.  It is no surprise that major life changes are the biggest stress factors in our life whether positive (marriage, new baby, Christmas) or negative (divorce, bereavement, illness).  Imposed change is normally seen as negative because it is something that has been forced upon us.  It is not desirable, often unpredictable, and it takes us outside of our comfort zones as it forces us to look at things differently and to adopt new ways of being.  It isn’t what we chose or wanted and it is outside of our control and so it is no surprise that we find imposed change to be stressful, upsetting and disorientating. 

 

 

 

If you would like some tips to help you manage change, whether imposed or wanted, then please come back Saturday when the second part of this blog will be posted. 

Your comments are always appreciated!

B – Belief

 

An individual’s belief system is created from birth, in fact, possibly even before birth. Every external message received by the mind contributes towards how an individual sees him or herself.  Our belief system is the culmination of other people’s opinions, attitudes and reactions about and to our selves. During our early years we subconsciously assume these beliefs and attitudes since they are given to us by those we hold in authority and respect, ie: parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. The self-image that we build up may be either helped or hindered and is entirely dependent upon the perception of the individual and upon the attitudes and opinions foisted upon him or her.  If our beliefs are left unquestioned and undoubted then we will eventually become that which we truly believe ourselves to be, whether positive or negative.  Our self-image therefore becomes our true self. 

As adults, we remain within our belief system because it is comfortable to do so.  We feel safe and protected within our environment, even when the situation is a negative or self-damaging one. Individuals often choose to remain in their environment, even if their life is full of pain or sadness.  This is because a person’s belief system reinforces the conviction that the position he or she is in, is what he or she deserves.  This reinforcement of the belief system is known as a closed personal loop: one which constantly supports a person’s life-long held beliefs about himself and the way he should live his life and how his life should be.  There are three parts to this loop (i) the behaviour of the person, (ii) the self-talk that he/she persists in, and (iii) his/her own self-image and his or her expectations of his/her self. However, all human beings can choose to change their beliefs and attitudes should they wish to do so, since we choose our own beliefs and attitudes in the first place.

If negative beliefs are addressed and dealt with, then behaviour and emotions will be improved.  It is the responsibility of the CBT therapist to enable his or her client to assess and analyse his or her beliefs, assumptions and thoughts in order to challenge and confront them and so effect long-term, positive change.

Beliefs can hold you back forever or they can enable you to achieve your highest potential.  The choice is yours. 

 

Mo Farah, Double British Olympic Gold Champion -Winner of the 5,000m and 10,000m at the 2012 Olympics