Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on three things to help people feel better: their thoughts and beliefs (about themselves, the world and others), their behaviours and their environment.
Basically, self-talk impacts our mood. The good news is that you can work with a therapist to change this negative inner chatter. But we are often unaware of our thoughts in the moment. In times of stress, our racing heartbeat and shallow breathing often take over.
To help clients bring awareness to their thoughts (because awareness is a critical step towards change) I first teach them mindful breathing. By taking time throughout your day to take deep breathes – in through your nose and out through your mouth – you can become more aware of your body sensations and negative thinking.
I also recommend paying close attention to your mood to supplement thought-awareness. The next time you are feeling nervous or anxious, pay attention to what you are focusing on. Are you thinking about all the work that you don’t have time to do? Are you worried about what a coworker thinks about you? When we focus on certain things, we start having a conversation about those things in our head, and as a result our body releases stress hormones that make us feel anxious and worried.
Our behaviours and our environment also impact our mood. To change your behaviours, try to take up activities that nurture you. If you experience high levels of anxiety, take hot bubble baths before bed, try limiting your coffee intake and reduce the amount of news you watch on TV.
To create a new environment conducive to your mental health and well being, first ask yourself what your current environment looks like. Are there certain people at work that impact your mood for the worse? Is there something about your environment at home that makes it difficult for you to relax? Environment has a big impact on our mood and how we feel, so make sure to create an environment that makes you feel good.
Your environment involves two key things: people and place. If there are negative people around you, can you find a way to limit your interaction with them? Can you connect with others more? Can you get out of the house more if you find yourself staying home, weekend after weekend? What does your environment look like? Is there light coming in? What is the ambiance like?
If you have discomfort in any areas related to your environment, work on creating an environment that is more a place of refuge for you and less a place of discomfort. You can do small things like light candles, burn incense, put up pictures of loved ones, and play your favorite music in the background when you’re at home.
CBT can dramatically help people become more empowered in their lives. It can help you see your role in the shaping of your own life, which happens through your thoughts and beliefs, behaviours and environment.
For more on CBT and other ways to improve depression and anxiety, refer to the resources section of my website.