Category: <span>Depression</span>

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause

A great way to start looking into the reasons why you feel so unenthusiastic about life or constantly on edge is to explore your cognitions. Your thinking, or what you believe about yourself, the world and others, can say a lot about you and the mental health problems from which you might be suffering. In CBT, beliefs are commonly explored in their hierarchical order, from the most apparent and present in personal discourse (intermediate beliefs), to the least obvious but more fundamental and deep-rooted ones (core beliefs). Below you will find a list of core and intermediate beliefs such as attitudes, rules and assumptions, as well as the mental health issues to which they are connected:

7 common negative beliefs and the problems they cause
Your negative beliefs have an impact on your mental health

1- I need to be successful in order to have a right to feel good about myself.

Making your self-esteem conditional and dependent solely upon achievements and other positive external stimuli, such as material goods or the approval of others, is a sign that you may be suffering from issues surrounding self-esteem. High self-esteem is nurtured from the inside out. A confident attitude means that you have enough psychological resources to accept yourself in a loving and compassionate manner, regardless of what is going on in your personal, academic or professional life. The more your emotional well-being is bound to appearance, social status or the impact you have on others, the more susceptible you become to developing problems with excessive worrying and self-criticism, perfectionism and low self-esteem.

2- If someone rejects me, it is because there is something wrong with me.

Personalization, or the assumption that peoples’ negative behaviours are related to you, is a classic cognitive error that is either reflective or leads to feelings of low self-esteem and social anxiety. A productive way of thinking which will boost your self-confidence instantly is to be suspicious of any cognition that influences you to judge yourself negatively too quickly and easily. Peoples’ social behaviours are products of their own psychological and emotional states. Before rushing to blame yourself for the reaction of others, remind yourself that the world is much bigger and people much more complex than your biased perspective cares to explain.

3- I cannot get anything right.

Really, nothing at all? Even on your worst day, it is humanly impossible to get everything you do, absolutely wrong. Magnification/minimisation – or focusing on the negative in a global and exaggerated fashion – can make you feel incompetent and small, even when it does not correspond to factual truth. Such prejudiced and inaccurate core belief is at the hearth of feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

4- If I don’t worry, something bad will happen.

Worrying that takes over your time and does not lead to a solution – a process also known as rumination – is not productive. If thinking did have magical powers, there would be no such thing as anxiety disorders. The assumption that worrying gives you a sense of control over reality is not only false, but it stops you from trusting yourself, getting things done and enjoying life.

5- I should have total control over my emotions, especially when negative.

There are two big no-no’s in the above rule. Firstly, should statements are counterproductive, since they do not make you feel relieved for whatever you think you may have done wrong, but only add to your suffering, resulting in even more feelings of powerlessness. Secondly, the habit of supressing or rationalising every single negative feeling you experience, as if they lacked purpose entirely, is extremely prejudicial to your psychological and emotional health. Perfectionists as well as anxious, depressed and unconfident people often use should statements when ruminating over their problems, in a maladaptive attempt to regain a sense of control over themselves (without success).

6- If I feel insecure and inadequate about trying something new, it is because it won’t work.

Emotional reasoning is another cognitive error that makes one believe his/her thoughts and feelings are the same as actions. Thoughts are what they are – just thoughts. Feelings of inadequacy, such as insecurity and anxiety, are not predictors of an outcome, but a sign that there is an internal conflict that needs to be addressed and dealt with.

7- If people found out who I truly am, they would reject me.

That assumption is wrong for the great majority of its believers. Somehow along the way towards becoming an adult you have registered the message that being yourself is unproductive, or simply not good enough. You may have felt rejected by your parents whenever you expressed negative emotions or acted in a way that went against their own beliefs and/or expectations of you. As time went by, that knowledge created a barrier between your true self and your self-esteem, as if to be accepted by others you had to supress your essence as much as you could. That myth is not only damaging to your psychological wellbeing but it significantly affects quality of life. Incongruence between the self and behaviour can lead to intense feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, personal frustration and a depressive attitude of general discontent towards life.

In order to help yourself adopt a more positive attitude or feel more in control over your moods, be mindful of beliefs that are too rigid, be they intermediate (rules, attitudes and assumptions) or core. To correct negative beliefs that are causing you to feel depressed and/or anxious, challenge automatic thoughts whenever you feel a negative shift in your emotional state. Ask yourself, “What does this thought say about me?” repeatedly, or until you get to the root of the problem. Then, restructure your belief so that it reflects a flexible and compassionate perspective.

5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health

5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health
You can improve quality of life in 2017 by focusing on your mental health

You have worked hard and yet another year has gone by at incredible speed. Now it is time to take a deep breath, enjoy the holiday celebrations and get ready for another round. Even if you are not a believer in New Year’s resolutions, since most of them tend not to last for longer than a month, anything you do in connection with self-improvement and personal growth is always worth your while.

Living a long and healthy life is all about looking after mind as well as your body. If you find you have not been as attentive to your emotional and psychological needs as you would have liked, here are 5 New Year’s resolutions for mental health that will help you feel more refreshed and at one with yourself in 2017:

1- I will not ignore my emotional pain

A great number of mental health problems could be avoided if early signs of stress and emotional discomfort were addressed as soon as possible. Feeling that you cannot relax or enjoy yourself doing what you love, for instance, could be a sign of excessive worrying, anxiety or depression. Learn to listen to your body and identify when it is time to slow down. Be kind to yourself by giving more attention to your emotional wellbeing. After all, our emotional resources are not infinite. If you feel stuck or intensely inadequate for whatever reason, take the time to address those feelings and, if needed, seek help from a friend or a counsellor. Just by giving your emotions the attention they deserve, you will feel more grounded and in control of yourself. Respecting who you are through acknowledging how you feel can give you a renewed sense of wholeness.

2- I will raise self-awareness

Make it “your thing” this year not to give in to automatic thoughts so easily. Actively monitor your thinking and challenge cognitions that do not reflect a positive and forgiving attitude. Whenever you feel your mood changing, direct your attention to your thoughts and investigate what is fuelling those negative emotions. Take control of yourself by analysing your way of thinking objectively. Turn your brain into your most loyal ally and use metacognition to help you maintain a balanced and fresh outlook.

3- I will let go of perfectionism

Tell yourself that perfectionism is not a skill, but the number 1 enemy of a healthy self-esteem. Replace rigid and biased notions of success by a more human – and often much more productive – approach to life. Practice self-compassion on a daily basis by becoming increasingly more tolerant of what you tend to judge so harshly. Would you criticise your best friend in the same manner you do you, or value him/her exclusively for the quality of his/her achievements? What is unkind to do to others is certainly not good for your own self.

4- I will incorporate relaxation exercises into my routine

Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation are just a few of a series of relaxation exercises you can do to bring some balance into your life. It does not take much to complete them, 10 – 15 minutes a day is already enough to recharge your batteries. “Me time” does not have to be only about binge eating or spending money on something extravagant, but it can also mean coming back home to your body.

5- I will focus on my psychological wellbeing

The best way to fight depression and anxiety is to respect the connection between mind and body. When you neglect one or the other, the whole being suffers. Be vigilant, are you dedicating enough time to cultivating a heathy mind? If not, stop and make a change. Review the above and start introducing those healthy new habits into your life again and without any judgement.

Enjoying peace of mind as a direct result of your own efforts to change is one of the most rewarding feelings you can experience. Those who embrace that knowledge tend to value the little things that makes us happy and end up leading more fulfilling lives. I hope you accept the challenge and have a smashing 2017!

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure

2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure
Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself

Given the hectic pace of modern life, feeling under pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations – including our own – can easily turn into yet another unhealthy habit. Because our lives have never been as monitored or exposed to so much scrutiny as in recent years, it may feel hard to let go of that need to strive for excellence, regardless of the impact that that attitude has on you. In the era of smart phones and social media, not looking “super active” and “always busy” can easily make you feel like a lost soul, a social outcast or, simply put, just not good enough. To live a truly authentic life has become a challenge at a time when just allowing oneself to sit still and do nothing sounds like a great oddity.

Even when you feel easily swayed by perfectionist ideals, you still have a choice. You can surrender to the pressure of being there for everyone and everything but yourself, and keep on struggling to deliver that picture of success and popularity, or take this moment to make it be about you. The real you, that is, the one who like all human beings needs to nurture the connection with his own body in order to feel in harmony with himself and others. Making the time to be about you does not only mean “treating yourself” to something expensive, tasty or new. It also means taking that moment to be there for yourself, to feel what it feels to be you at that moment. All without judgement. All without having to do things a certain way (like having to follow a stereotype of “me time”, as in lying in a hot bath seeping a glass of red wine or eating a huge bar of chocolate while binge watching a TV series on Netflix. If any of those things happen not to be available… well, then you are stuck with that bad feeling!).

Mindfulness can help you feel at one with yourself without having to get out of your way in search of something elaborate to reach that peace of mind. Just taking little time to focus on your breathing can allow you to reconnect with your body, honour that moment and the sensations that make you whole, attending to the whole you. You do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it, or a great connoisseur of Eastern philosophy to master it. Mindfulness in already part of you – that unique ability you already possess to use thought to focus on yourself and observe your own thinking, feelings and behaviours.

If you feel under stress and would like to give mindfulness a try, below you will find 2 simple mindfulness exercises to help you cope with pressure:

1- Grounding yourself

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air and, at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your feet. Attend to the sensations of contact between the soles of your feet and the surface on which they are resting. Feel how the whole you, your legs, torso, arms and head are connected to that surface. Feel yourself as a unit, as a body sitting in that position. Examine the sensations that intensify your perception of what it means to be that body at that moment, like feeling the hard surface of the chair against your skin or noticing feelings of heaviness or lightness in the limbs. Then remind yourself of where you are, what day of the week and time of the day it is. Own that moment by feeling fully there in the present, mind and body, all in one sitting on that chair and just being yourself at that precise time and space.

2- Stress relief

Sitting on a chair in an erect yet comfortable position, take a couple of minutes to bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Observe how your chest expands at each in breath, filling your whole body with air, and at the out breath, giving that natural feeling of relaxation. When you feel yourself relaxing as the mind reconnects with the body, let go of the chest and bring the focus of your attention to your whole body. As you search for the sensations present in that moment, identify the one that makes you feel crushed. That sensation may be a feeling of pressure around your chest, a tightness of the neck or jaw or feelings of heaviness, pain or pressure in the abdominal area, for instance. As soon as you connect to that part of your body, dedicate a couple of minutes to focus your attention on that region. Take time to attend to the bodily sensations that reflect that negative emotional state. Notice how stress is felt by you in that particular region. Fully attend to the source of your discomfort. As your thinking starts to process those sensations, notice what happens when they start to dissipate into the rest of the body as flowing energy. Feel a shift in those sensations as they disappear from awareness. Enjoy that feeling of relief and reconciliation as your attention claims back your entire body.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed or disconnected, as if you were running on autopilot, take a few minutes to practice one of the above. Both exercises will allow you to feel refreshed and centred. It is vital to your general psychological and emotional wellbeing to attend to those negative feelings as soon as they arise. Letting them build up as if they were not as important as whatever you are doing at that moment has the potential to result in mental health complications later on, such an episode of burnout or depression, or even a full-blown anxiety disorder. Get your priorities right by learning how to love and respect the whole you, body and soul.

How to do a DRDT

how to do a DRDT
It only takes a few minutes to fill in a DRDT.

A DRDT, or a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts, is a very useful CBT task designed to uncover and challenge automatic/negative thoughts.

The main goals of a DRDT are:

1- To help the client gain greater insight on what is motivating their negative feelings, such as those commonly related to low self-worth and/or anxiety, as well as unproductive behaviours.

2- To challenge negative and biased thinking.

It is quite common not to be aware of the reasons why you feel “so bad” or demotivated, for instance. With the help of a DRDT, you can target errors in thinking that are fuelling your emotional discomfort. Biased and distorted thoughts are analysed objectively, allowing you to problem-solve more confidently, while adopting a more productive attitude.

Step 1: Create a DRDT

A DRDT or Thought Journal/Record traditionally comes in 6 columns: “Date”, “Situation”, “Feelings”, “Automatic Thoughts”, “Alternative Responses” and “Outcome”. As a DRDT is used to monitor your thoughts on a regular basis, it is worth keeping it light and small so you can carry it around with you.

Step 2: Fill in a DRDT

A DRDT is to be filled in when you notice a change in your mood. If you are watching TV and suddenly start feeling a bit low, get your DRDT out and start filling in the 6 columns with the appropriate information asap. The later you write down your thoughts from the moment you have them, the more likely you are to forget all those important details. It takes little time to do it, not more than a few minutes.

Date: write down the exact date of you thought.

Situation: describe where you were and what was happening/what you were doing when you had your thought.

Feelings: record your emotions, rating them from 0 to 100%.

Automatic Thoughts: write exactly what you were thinking, word by word. If your thought was an image, describe it in detail.

Alternative Responses: add an objective response that challenges the veracity of your automatic thought. The alternative response represents the more rational you, the person you are when you react in a sensible, logical and reasonable manner.

Outcome: detail how you felt and what you did after identifying and challenging your automatic thought.

Step 3: Analyse your DRDT

After you have a completed a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts for 7 days, sit down and take some time to read through all your automatic thoughts.

Are you able to find a common theme?

What cognitive errors can you identify?

What do your automatic thoughts say about you?

Which automatic thoughts affected you the most? 

Which alternative responses caused the greatest change in your feelings and behaviours?

 

For a free DRDT sample, click here

List of cognitive errors

cognitive errors
Learn how to identify cognitive errors in your thinking.

Identifying cognitive errors can help you improve your mood.

In CBT, your thoughts are approached from an objective perspective to enable you to feel more empowered and in control of your moods. Because thoughts are “just thoughts” and not facts, in therapy they are dealt as abstract and subjective entities that may not necessarily reflect the truth.

Here are the 11 most common cognitive errors:

1- All-or-nothing thinking: you see the world in black and white and ignore numerous shades of grey.

Ex.: If this project doesn’t go well, it will be a total disaster.

2- Catastrophizing: you think the worst is somehow bound to happen, again ignoring variations as the possibility of positive outcomes.

Ex.: If I don’t get this job, I won’t be able to recover financially.

3- Disqualifying or discounting the positive: you overlook or dismiss the importance of your achievements as well as small victories as if they were to be expected and not celebrated or taken into consideration.

Ex. So what if I was promoted? It happens to people my age.

4- Emotional reasoning: your evaluations are based on your personal feelings and not on objective reason.

Ex.: If I feel incompetent, it means I can’t do anything right.

5- Labelling: you use a term of negative connotation to describe yourself, a situation or other people as if it were a faithful representation of the whole picture, without proof or analysis of any further considerations.

Ex.: I am an idiot, she’s a gold-digger and our marriage is a farce.

6- Magnification/minimisation: you judge yourself, others and the world around you emphasising the negative and reducing or ignoring the value of anything positive.

Ex.: Getting a promotion is what is expected of someone my age, while doing the same job for years means I am incompetent.

7- Mental filter: you focus on a negative aspect to formulate judgement.

Ex.: Dinner was mediocre, because my chocolate mousse didn’t rise.

8- Mind reading: you think you know what goes through other people’s minds without talking to them first.

Ex.: She thinks I am unsuitable to lead the team.

9- Overgeneralization: your interpretation is based on a broad and simplistic evaluation that exceeds the scope of the matter.

Ex.: (Because she is not interested in me) I will never date anyone I like.

10- Personalisation: you think other people’s negative behaviours are related to you.

Ex.: He left the pub early because he finds me boring.

11- “Should” and “must” statements: you have prescribed and inflexible views of yourself and others and exaggerate the importance of your own expectations.

Ex.: I’ve made a silly comment in today’s meeting. I should never open my mouth without being sure of what I am about to say.

Reference:

Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behaviour therapy, basics and beyond (2nd ed.) New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

10 tips for better emotional and psychological health

It is definitely worth striving for better emotional and psychological health.

Everyone knows the benefits of exercising and a healthy diet for maintaining well-being.  Connecting good health solely to our physical condition is a common behaviour in Western culture. Looking after oneself from a psychological and emotional perspective tends to be overlooked or completely ignored. Until something more dramatic happens, as an episode of depression or intense anxiety, we act as if our cognitive and emotional health did not require much of our attention and care.

The facts contradict the merit of such attitude, however. Depression has recently been found to be the second major cause of disability worldwide. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the cost of anxiety disorders comes close to one-third of the country’s total expenditure on mental health related issues. Even though the statistics are quite alarming, most people only recognise the value of looking after one’s mind and emotions when already affected by a mental health problem.

Thankfully, it is never too late to invest in your well-being. If you believe to have been neglecting you mental and emotional health, here are 10 tips for better emotional and psychological health:

  1. Stimulate your intellect: when was the last time you challenged your brain? You can activate those grey cells with some inspirational reading. Diversify your knowledge reading about topics you have never read before. Put down those crime novels and get out of your comfort zone with some highbrow books.
  2. Keep sound relationships: as social beings, we tend to live healthier and longer lives when socially active. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation have been linked to depression and late onset dementia. As we grow older, however, we tend to prioritise other areas to the detriment of our social lives. Dedicating time and effort to keep your
    better emotional and psychological health
    Small changes in behaviour can improve your mental and emotional health.

    relationships going does not only brighten your mood, but it also stimulates your cognition.

  3. Practice self-acceptance: a high level of self-esteem relies on your ability to love yourself unconditionally. When you accept yourself the way you are and leave at peace with your weaknesses, you are less likely to develop a problem with self-criticism, perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
  4. Relax body and mind: progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, you name it. There is so much out there for you to try. Take some minutes of your day to unwind, restore your energy levels and feel in tune with your body.
  5. Appreciate stillness: stop for a moment and allow yourself to just be. You are a ‘being’ after all, so do your thing. There is nothing wrong in just enjoying the moment. Nothingdoism is the new ‘me-time’. Resist the temptation to get distracted by excess doism and learn how to appreciate an undisturbed and serene existence. Does the idea of being able to enjoy life’s small pleasures sound appealing to you? If you would like to apply that wonderful concept into your own life, take some time to notice the here and now. Look around you. Open your eyes to that multi-coloured sky and take some minutes to process what you see and feel.
  6. Learn how to let go: feeling too attached to an idea or thought can get you stuck on rumination mode. If your thinking is not leading you to any productive solutions, it is time to let those thoughts go. If you find it hard to get distracted or focus on something else, write your worry on a piece of paper and throw it away.
  7. Rely on your creative potential: you do not have to be a born artistic talent to unleash your creative potential. Personal creativity goes beyond the artistic realm. You can use your own resourcefulness to think of new ways of approaching life. What about taking a new direction, or investing in a different lifestyle? When existence becomes a repetitive re-enactment of a series of long-standing habits, a little imagination can help you make positive changes happen. Even if you do not feel comfortable with the idea of adopting an unfamiliar line of action, acting ‘as if’ you feel confident can give you a taste of what you are truly capable.
  8. Invest in personal growth: doing volunteer work, extending your qualifications, taking an active role in your community, spending more time with friends and family, getting motivated to do what you truly love, getting rid of bad habits, introducing healthy habits, the list goes on. Embrace your humanity and reconnect with yourself, others and the world around you.
  9. Keep a mood journal: keeping a daily record of your moods is an excellent way of gaining greater insight into your feelings. Connecting good and bad feelings to certain thoughts and behaviours will allow you to understand your motivations and control your moods more effectively.
  10. Do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: there are times that finding professional help is the best choice to implement some healthy changes into your own life. CBT is renowned for its excellent results in the treatment of a wide variety of problems. As you go away from CBT with a new set of problem solving skills, you are better equipped to deal with future challenges.

Taking care of yourself also involves monitoring your psychological and emotional health. You can increase quality of life by raising your awareness about the importance of a sound relationship between body and mind. Prioritising one over the other or dismissing the value of your own feelings altogether can have a profound impact on your general well-being. To prevent finding out about this simple truth the hard way, be proactive. Practice self-love by taking care of the whole of you, from head to toe.