Negative thoughts are one of the biggest challenges that people with anxiety often face. It seem an overwhelming task to learn how to to combat them but one of the most effective treatments is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In this article, I will outline five steps used in CBT to deal with negative thoughts. |
1. Negative Automatic Thoughts
When you are in (or thinking about) a situation which makes you anxious, you will probably find that negative thoughts creep into your mind about the situation. These are called Negative Automatic Thoughts. These thoughts often escalate and make you feel worse. Have you ever experienced the 'what if' cycle? You start thinking negative thoughts like 'What if I can't answer the questions' or 'What if I make a fool of myself' and this worsens your feelings about the situation.
What can you do: learn how to recognise your Negative Automatic Thoughts. Think about a particular situation which causes you anxiety. Write down all the thoughts which come into your head. Look through the list and highlight all the negative thoughts - these are your Negative Automatic Thoughts.
2. Underlying Assumptions
These are assumptions that form a part of your beliefs. Underlying Assumptions can be either positive or negative - if you can identify negative Underlying Assumptions, you will be able to start challenging your negative beliefs. An example of a negative Underlying Assumption is 'If I don't pass these exams, then I will be a failure'. These can also be seen as rules that you live your life by - such as 'I must never show my weaknesses to other people'.
3. Underlying Core Beliefs
We all have specific beliefs about ourselves which form the basis of the way we think. Underlying Core Beliefs are often formed during our childhood and again can be either positive or negative. Negative Core Beliefs make it difficult for us to deal with anxious situations as we are in a negative frame of mind which is fed by our negative core belief. Changing your Negative Core Beliefs will lead to long term change in the way you cope with anxious situations.
4. Recognising Your Behaviour
Negative Automatic Thoughts will have a direct effect on your behaviour. When you have negative thoughts this will often result in particular feelings. So for example, if you start thinking that you are making a fool of yourself, this will change the way you feel - you might feel depressed or maybe you feel angry with yourself. But the result is that your feelings have been affected. And when your feelings are affected negatively, you will often change your behaviour to cope with the situation. So for example, because you are thinking that you might make a fool of yourself at a party, you decide that you won't go to the party - and you may decide that you will stop going to all social activities. In this way, your negative thoughts, assumptions and core beliefs all come together to change your behaviour.
5. Challenging Your Behaviour
Once you have recognised your behaviour, you can begin to challenge and change your behaviour. One way to do this is to experiment. Using the example above, you may decide to go to one social event that you have previously avoided, and see if the situation you are anxious about happens (eg. making a fool of yourself).
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is not a self-help therapy - it should be undertaken with a qualified CBT therapist. See if your doctor can refer to you - in the UK, CBT is recommended by National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It is a very effective treatment for managing anxiety which will reward you for the time you invest in it.
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