Sixth Appointment – CBT- Recognising Thoughts

Since starting my CBT, I have been feeling much better. I’m not saying I’m cured, or that I even feel remotely close to being cured, but I feel more in control. The most in control I have felt for a long time. My sessions have really opened my eyes to how I am, where it all stems from, and how to be more objective in my emotional response to situations.

A great example of me being more in control, is when I was made to stand up in front of the entire company only last week. If I had not had my appointment that very morning, and discussed how to approach my feelings/opinions better, I honestly do not think I would have coped with that situation at all. I probably would have died inside, curled up into the foetal position, in a puddle of my own piss, and cried. I’m not saying I breezed through it. Oh no. My stomach sank, my heart raced, I think my face may have glowed brighter than the sun, and I was desperate to run for the exit. My anxiety was high, but, it was still within the manageable stage. I was able to go through that situation, and not let my thoughts overwhelm me, but rather ask myself about the facts I had for my thinking, and to really put myself on the outside and try to look in and see it for what it was. It was a laugh. Albeit, at my expense, but still a laugh. Am I saying I’m ok with it, and would like it to ever happen again? Hell no! This being said, I’m still very happy with how well I dealt with it. I think this situation has actually been a well timed blessing in disguise.

I have been given ‘homework’ to practice relaxing. I would love to say I do this daily, but in all honesty, I forget. What I have found though, is I’m noticing when I’m getting tense more. Sometimes when I’m in work, I’ll notice that my shoulders are getting up to my ears, and I just take a moment, breath, and let my shoulders drop. Doing this has made such a difference to how I’m feeling in work right now. I also think it’s making a huge difference to my over all attitude and how I’m dealing with others, but, I could be wrong and they may not think so. There have still been moments where people have irked me beyond all reason, but you know what? I think, regardless of anxiety/depression, they’d do this to me anyway! I’ve spoken about how certain people get under my skin, or how when people try and push their ways onto me, it gets me frustrated and angry, and I’ve been told this is very ‘normal’. Everyone would be annoyed at having someone talk to them like they’re stupid, or, by being told that the way they do things (even if the end result is the EXACT same) is wrong. This makes me feel a helluva lot better, and I see that I’m not being a bitch by getting frustrated or angry, but, I could find a better way to convey it, or deal with it.

Last weeks session was all about me plotting out my thinking/feelings, and finding the facts for/against them, to try and look at the situations more objectively. I have definitely found this way of thinking helpful, but it is quite a long process. In this weeks appointment I have been given another 3 methods to try:

Method 1 – Labelling your thoughts

The first step in distancing yourself from your self-attacking thoughts is by labelling your thought/feeling by saying it out loud and writing it down. For example:

“I am having a thought that the future is hopeless”
“I am having the feeling that something terrible is going to happen”
“I am judging myself on the basis of how bad I am feeling right now”

Try to complete the following sentences to label your own typical thoughts and feelings:
I am having a thought that (describe)………………..
I am having a feeling that (describe)…………………
I am having memories about (describe)……………..

For this it just felt very similar to what I’ve been doing. I’m recognising my thoughts as just that, a thought, or a feeling, then rationalising the facts about the thoughts/feelings, and working out if my level of anxiety is expected.

Method 2 – Visualisation
To further distance yourself form your thoughts i.e. not buying into them but being aware of them and observing them as an outsider, consider trying out the following visualisation exercise.

This may not be easy at first, bit it’s worth practising. The technique of distancing your thoughts can also be used to notice your intrusive thoughts and not dwell on them.

The aim is not to get rid of those thoughts. For example, if you are in a city there is always background noise that you learn to live with. In the same way, you can learn to notice unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and acknowledge their presence as they are passing through your mind.

  1. Get into a relaxed position

  2. Observe the flow of your thoughts, one after another without trying to figure out their meaning or their relationship to one another.

  3. Imagine for a moment you’re sitting next to a stream.

  4. As you gaze at the stream, you notice a number of leaves on the surface of the water.

  5. Keep looking at the leaves and watch them slowly drift down stream.

  6. When thoughts come, put each on on a leaf and notice each leaf as it comes closer to you.

  7. Watch it slowly moving away from you, eventually drifting out of sight.

  8. Allow yourself to have thoughts and imagine them floating by like leaves down a stream.

  9. Each time a thought comes, put each one on a leaf and notice as it comes closer to you and drifts by out of sight.

  10. Continue to watch your thoughts flow by.

  11. You don’t have to interfere with the stream, just let everything flow.

  12. When you are ready, gradually widen your attention to take in the sounds around you.

  13. Slowly open your eyes and get back to life.

I’m not even going to lie. I felt like a right numpty doing this. All the while I didn’t see any stream, or leaves, or hear any noises bar my counsellors lips smacking together as she talked. It was all very frustrating. Did I tell them this? Nope. I lied and said I did it, but I didn’t think it was for me. I was encouraged to practice this one, and that I could make it whatever I wanted. They have people who visualise cars on the road outside their home, or animals passing by, all of which sounds fab…..for them. I honestly don’t think this will work for me, but, I will at least give it another go before I throw in the towel.

Method 3 – Stopping the flow of thoughts and refocusing your attention on the outside world

It is also helpful to reduce your attention on yourself when you are feeling self-critical or anxious. This can be a helpful short-term way of distracting yourself from those unpleasant feelings at the time when you are experiencing a high level of distress in specific situations, for example, if you experience marked anxiety in social situations.

Every time you notice that your mind is excessively self-focused, then immediately refocus your attention onto the task in hand, or the environment. If you are on your own and have no specific task to do, refocus on the environment and make yourself more aware of the following aspects:

  • The various objects, colours, people, patterns, and shapes you can see around you

  • The sounds that you can hear

  • What can you smell

  • What you can taste (food/drink)

  • The physical sensations you can feel from the environment (hot/cold, breeze, the ground etc)

This method I like. I have always said that distraction is key for me. I tend to find that if I’m at home, and I’m having a bout of anxiety, lets say I’ve convinced myself I’m about to die (happens more than I would like), I will get up, blast my tunes, and do some cleaning. Before you know it, the house is shiny, and I’m still alive! Hooray! This technique is also known as ‘grounding’. It’s essentially peeling yourself off the ceiling and giving yourself a little, much needed, dose of what’s real/tangible, and helps to stop you getting lost in your own thoughts. I know that this technique will be helpful for me, and I will definitely be using it.

After discussing these different thinking methods, we began to discuss situations of late whereby I’ve been left feeling low/anxious.  One occasion was losing someone I considered to be a close friend. A best friend even. A brother from another mother as it were. I’ve known them for, well, it would have been 7 years this year, and I thought we were close. I guess this is where my rational thinking and facts would have come in handy huh? I may have thought we were close, and felt that they were like family, but clearly I was wrong. Losing them hurt. A lot. The whole situation started about a year ago, firstly it was excuses of not being able to spend time together, then it was blaming their other half for not being able to do things, with such shit as “I’m not allowed”, and finally, it was just completely ignoring me. Actually reading messages, and not bothering to reply at all. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said “Is everything ok? Have I done something?”, to be told “Everything is fine”. Well, as you can imagine, I’ve spent many a sleepless night wondering what I’ve done wrong, as they they now appear to have complete disdain for me, and where has it gotten me? No where really. I’m exactly where I would have been, regardless of the over thinking, sleepless nights etc. The facts are, this person just doesn’t want me around anymore, and whilst that is hard, and it hurts, that’s what it is. I have no facts to back up that I’m the problem, so really I just have to accept it on face value and move on.

Then I was asked to say when I’ve felt happy and relaxed this week, and that came to me a little easier than expected. I have been at my happiest this week, when being out and about. First up my friend from my previous job entered a competition to win a work night out at the bingo. Not only did they win, but, they added me into the mix. The fact I was even a thought actually balled me over. Honestly. I actually got a little bit emotional. I know, I know. It was only bingo! But really it was more than that to me. Then a work colleague invited all of us to his book launch, that I attended and had a really good time. I also went out for tea with a friend of mine, and it was nice to be sitting out for a meal, with not a single child in sight, being able to talk and laugh. Then there are people in work, who have been making my days more manageable by keeping conversations light, keeping the banter flowing, and making me laugh/smile.

My counsellor and I discussed the differences between the two situations. In my negative situation, I’m overly self focused, whereas in my happy situations, I’m focused on others and activities. This really solidifies that the ‘grounding’ method is most likely going to be the most helpful, and definitely one I’m keen to try. I will also look to try the other two, as I’m ready to do anything to help me be a happier and nicer version of myself.

Positives? I’m definitely starting to feel better within myself. I’m not feeling nearly as sad as I have been, and I feel more prepared to deal with anxious situations. My next appointment is in two weeks time, as I want time to be able to practice these methods, before I’m given a new set of ‘homework’ to do.

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