Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based, effective form of therapy. What makes it so different from some other therapeutic techniques is that it gets to work right away on identifying and changing patterns that cause problems in peoples’ lives. With the current growth of online therapy, this means you can bring these changes into your daily life sooner than you might expect.
The goal of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is to learn more helpful and effective ways of thinking and behaving, so you can use these skills to improve your life. Although learning and practicing these techniques with your therapist is an important first step, the real transformation occurs when you take your new tools into your everyday living.
But what does that look like? Will you really be able to take what you learned in a therapist’s office and apply it to your stress in everyday life? Will it really work in situations like the pick-up line at your child’s school? It may seem strange, but that’s the strength of CBT. It’s not about endlessly exploring painful events of the past, but learning helpful ways to think and act, so you can be happier and more effective in your daily life–even the pick-up line at school.
Many people find that the skills they learn in CBT eventually become second nature. Here’s a look at some ways people apply these techniques to their lives.
CBT Skill #1 – Relaxation exercises
Feeling strong emotions, such as fear or anger, makes it hard, if not impossible, to think through your choices and make the best decisions. Your therapist can help you learn exercises to turn to when you want to calm your body’s response to stress. Learning to pay attention to how you’re feeling is an important part of mindfulness, helping you turn off the mental chatter that makes it hard to think clearly.
Here are a couple of examples that you can fit into your day whenever you may need them.
Sit in a comfortable position and breathe in deeply through your nose, feeling your stomach move as your diaphragm expands. Hold this breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat several times, paying attention to your body’s response. You may feel your heartbeat slow, your shoulders or jaw relax, or tightness in your stomach ease up. Sit quietly until your body feels at ease, and you’re able to think through your situation and options more clearly.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This can be especially helpful for people who suffer from insomnia, but anyone who is feeling a lot of tension in their body can use this technique.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable, supported position. Start by tensing the muscles in one part of your body, such as your leg. Hold that tension for a few seconds, then slowly relax those muscles. Move on to the next area of the body and repeat. This exercise can help you identify taut muscles that you didn’t even realize you were clenching, and help you release that tension.
CBT Skill #2 – Journaling
You may be familiar with recording your day in a journal, but when this tool is used in CBT, the focus is different. Because CBT seeks to identify and adjust dysfunctional thinking patterns, you can use a journal instead to help you understand the thoughts that are contributing to your problems.
Your therapist will work with you on a specific outline for your journal, but the steps might look something like this:
- Write down the emotion you’re feeling.
- Describe the event that triggered that feeling.
- Observe and record your thoughts about that event. For example, “I messed everything up.”
- Challenge the thoughts that aren’t true or helpful. “I made a mistake because I’m not perfect, but that’s ok.”
- Explore ways you could have reacted differently and how you can respond to the situation now.
Initially, it’s helpful to work through these steps with your therapist, but once you’re comfortable with the process, it’s always available. You can use it to regain a sense of direction and confidence after an upsetting event.
CBT Skill #3 – Break down a complex or difficult task.
Many people, especially those who struggle with anxiety, feel overwhelmed when facing a hard task. Instead of dealing with it, they shut down and avoid thinking about it. This results in two negative outcomes: the task remains undone, and the anxiety about doing it is compounded by a feeling of failure and possibly even shame.
To turn down the emotional temperature and make it easier to get started, it can help to break the job down into manageable steps. For example, starting a large organizational project in a cluttered closet may feel like too much work to even start. Instead of thinking of it as a single, daunting job, break down the work into easier steps. That may look something like this:
- Set aside places to put the items you take out of the closet. You’ll want specific spots to put things to give away, things to throw away, things to put somewhere else, and things to return to the closet.
- Remove things from the closet, sorting them into the four categories. You can set a timer for 20 minutes, giving yourself an attainable goal that isn’t too time-consuming.
- Repeat the 20-minute intervals, if needed, until the closet is empty.
- Throw away the trash.
- Put the items to donate in your car or arrange for a pick-up.
- Put away the items that belong elsewhere.
- Return what’s left to the closet.
None of these individual steps are very difficult, and breaking down the task makes it possible to make progress, even if you can’t finish the work in a single day. The feeling of accomplishment, even in completing just a single step, helps motivate you to keep going.
CBT can help you develop these and many other skills to empower you to create the life you want. If you’re interested in learning more about this approach to therapy, please contact us for more information. Our compassionate therapists are experienced in Cognitive Therapy and are here to help you start working toward a better tomorrow.