CBT is based on the belief that it’s not what happens to you that affects you, it’s the way you interpret what happens. In the simplest possible terms; the way you perceive an event will influence what you’re going to think, your behaviour and how you’re going to feel both emotionally and physically.
For example, if you’re feeling low or stressed and then you step in a puddle, your far more likely to interpret what’s happened in a negative way (by taking it personally) and think, “Why do these things always happen to me?” This thought will make you feel angry/frustrated and physically tense (racing heart, hunched shoulders etc.). Feeling this way is likely to influence your behaviour i.e. you might cancel your plans to go out that evening.
We have illustrated this connected between your thoughts, behaviour, mood and body in a snazzy diagram called a mind map:
When things are tough or you’re having a difficult time, your interpretation of events will tend to be quite negative leading to destructive cycles. Here’s an example. You see your mate John across the street. You wave. He looks at you, but doesn’t wave back.
Thought: ‘He ignored me!’ Emotions: Angry, defensive, upset Physicality Tense, clenched fists, pounding heart Behaviour: Ignore John when you next see him
Can you see the cycle? By being aware of how each of these things affects the others you’ll be able to stop them – by challenging your thoughts, calming down your body and checking your behaviour which will all positively affect your mood.
Each section of the mind map offers an intervention point. If you change just one of them to be more positive it will have a knock-on effect on the others. So, using the example above, if instead of thinking ‘John ignored me’ you thought ‘John must have forgotten his glasses’ your body and mood would remain neutral and you wouldn’t ignore him when you next saw him.
To identify these chains you can start at any point. E.g. You might wake up feeling exhausted and low in motivation (physicality), which might make you feel low (emotions) and think I can’t face the day (thoughts), affecting what you do as you find it harder to get out of the house and end up late for work (behaviour).
So next time you’re feeling low, stressed or anxious or notice a really negative thought pinging into your head use the mind map and ask yourself the following questions to break the problem down:
- Thoughts: What went through my mind?
- Emotions: How did it make me feel?
- Behaviour: What did you do or what did you have an impulse to do?
- Physicality: How did your body react?
Then you can change your:
- Thoughts: by questioning their validity and formulating realistic, fairer alternatives
- Physically: with relaxation techniques, exercise or even something simple like a relaxing bath or listening to your favourite song
- Behaviour: by doing more of the things you enjoy to make yourself feel better and less of the things that make you feel bad.
You could just wait to feel better, but who knows how long that will take? Paying attention to your own internal mind map will force you to reassess a situation and look at alternatives and lets you take back control of the situation so that you can feel better sooner!
For more info on mind maps click here.