Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT has long been a favorite of psychologists and therapists worldwide.
If you went to see your family doctor because of problems with stress or anxiety it is highly likely that they would recommend a program of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Despite this, some of the simple techniques from CBT that you can make use of for yourself are not widely known.
We will discuss just some of the techniques that you can use in order for you to take control and reduce stress and anxiety in your life. Firstly we must have a basic understanding of stress, why it is normal and why it is even necessary.
You are having a perfect family day in the countryside enjoying a picnic. You hear a rustling in a nearby bush and realize that a bull is charging towards you and your family. Your body reacts instantly, you feel the adrenaline and blood pumping through your body, you feel tense but alert.
You feel energy and strength that compels you to get yourself and your family to safety, so you grab your family and run to safety. You are relieved but tired, soon you return back to normal.
This kind of fear-stress response in the face of danger is hard-wired into us all as humans, we have evolved to survive in the most dangerous of environments.
The response is highly effective and has ensured our survival as a species, but as we no longer live in such a dangerous world, the response can be triggered out of context, causing unnecessary stress that can lead to prolonged anxiety.
At low levels, stress is useful in order to make us feel alert and to perform well at a given task. But when stress becomes a problem try these simple techniques to manage your stress:
Get to Know your Stress and Anxiety
It may sound counter-intuitive, as many people will employ avoidance when it comes to stress, simply ignoring the problem is unlikely to help. The best way to get to know your stress is to keep a diary or a log. Monitor your stress every day and keep a record.
Rate your stress between 1 and 5, 1 being no stress and 5 being maximum stress. Keep a log of times, dates, occasion, trigger, how you coped and how you felt afterwards. Over a matter of weeks by doing this you will be able to identify what is causing your stress and how you generally cope with it.
You can then identify which coping strategies are working and take advantage of those and which are not and work on minimizing when you use those strategies.
Try the following coping strategies to see which work best for you:
- Controlled Breathing: Getting control of your breathing will allow you to minimize the bodily sensations of stress and reduce its overall effect. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, take a deep breath in through your nose allowing your stomach to expand, keep your upper chest still, slowly breathe out through your nose, continue this steady breathing exercise developing a slow and composed rhythm.
- Challenge the Triggers of your Stress: Try this technique when you are not feeling overly stressed or anxious. Look through your diary or log and mentally frame the triggers, what was going through your mind? Was it rational? You are likely to be making thought-errors or be overly biased in your thinking. For example:
- Catastrophising: Thinking the worst will happen, even during a minor event.
- All or Nothing Thinking: Viewing complicated things as black and white.
- Searching: Consciously seeking things that might stress you out.
- Exaggerating and Overgeneralizing: Amplifying stresses and including everything as a negative experience.
- Ignoring the Good: Overlooking the good experiences and focusing on the bad.
Once you recognize which of these errors you are making that are causing you to stress you can begin to challenge them.
Here are a couple of ways to challenge your thoughts and begin thinking in a new more positive way:
Consider the reasons for having the stressful thoughts: Have you read or been told something that has skewed your thinking? What is the worst that could happen? It might feel overwhelming at the time but in reality, the stress is likely to pass quickly and have little effect on your life if you let it pass without focusing on it.
Consider more constructive ways of dealing with a stressful situation: Develop strategies to deal with specific situations that you have identified as stressful, these could be simple like leaving a room or asking for help with something that you are finding stressful.
At some point in most people’s lives they suffer from a certain amount of stress and anxiety, it is often unavoidable and required in order to progress in life.
Bearing in mind the overall end goal of the stressful situation may help, for example, you may find a job interview extremely stressful but it may lead to your dream job and a better life.
Allow time for the techniques to take effect, these basic CBT techniques along with a balanced lifestyle; getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthily, seeing your friends and family and doing things that you enjoy, you will be able to reduce the level of stress and anxiety in your life for good.
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