CBT home workouts: 5 ways to boost your mental wellbeing
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a talking therapy that can help you manage a range of difficulties by reframing the way you think and behave. Everyone can benefit from it by gaining practical ways to break unhelpful cycles and improve their wellbeing.
Like taking up a new sport or learning to play a musical instrument, the techniques you learn in CBT take practice. They can be difficult at first, but when you stick with it, the results can be life-changing.
Here are five CBT-based techniques you can try at home when you’re not feeling like yourself.
#1 When you can’t focus on your thoughts
If you’re not feeling yourself and don’t know why, your mood and ability to function can be negatively affected. For many people, it can also be difficult to talk with others about the way they’ve been feeling — a vital step towards feeling better.
Instead of talking, try getting your thoughts and feelings down in writing. By spending no more than 20 minutes journaling every day, you’ll begin to spot patterns in your thoughts that will help you better understand where they come from.
If you’re struggling to find the words, start by writing what you’ve been doing throughout the day. Break it up into small parts and try to explain how you felt at the time. Remember, there’s no need to write an essay — even getting a few words off your chest can help.
If you do spot patterns emerging each time you write, try to be curious about them and question where they might be coming from. You can also try to turn them into more helpful and healthy thoughts using the reframing technique below.
#2 When you’re worrying excessively
We all worry about things every so often, but when worrying becomes excessive or frequent, anxiety can begin to take hold on your mental wellbeing.
Anxiety can often be made up of two things; the overestimation that something bad will happen and the underestimation of our ability to cope when it does.
Try asking yourself these three questions
1. What do I think is going to happen, and what is most likely to happen?
If you’re stuck worrying about a situation, it can be helpful to work out what it is that you are most concerned about. You can then use this worst case scenario to make some predictions based on what you’ve seen happen in real life. This can help you realise when your anxiety is based on something completely unfounded.
2. How many times have you made this negative prediction? And has it ever come true?
Considering the odds of your worst case scenario ever actually happening can help you reframe the unhelpful worrying that’s causing you so much unnecessary anxiety.
3. If the worst case did happen, what would you do?
If you were successful in predicting the worst, what would happen next? Whether it’s failing a test, not getting the job or feeling embarrassed and rejected, the disappointment won’t last forever.
Remembering how we have coped with adversity or solved a similar problem in the past is a great way of challenging the notion that we won’t be able to manage difficult situations in the future.
#3 When you can’t accept uncertainty
Not many things in life are certain, and if you’re struggling with generalised anxiety, this can be very difficult to come to terms with on a daily basis. There is little anyone can do to control what may or may not happen in the future, and trying to do so will only lead to undue worry and stress.
Try imagining what your life would look like if everything was for certain
While it would make planning very straightforward, it would also make life incredibly dull and remove the possibility of all the positive surprises that you might be forgetting about.
Trying to visualise what would happen if you got your wish of certainty can help you appreciate the benefits of not knowing everything for sure.
#4 When you’re being especially hard on yourself
Not everything goes how we expected or how we wanted. When this happens, it can be difficult to make sense of the situation and understand exactly what went wrong.
Many people can be quick to accept all of the responsibility and be unnecessarily, and unfairly, harsh on themselves as a result.
Try the CBT responsibility pie chart technique
Step 1: Write down the first thought that comes to your mind when you’re being hard on yourself.
For example, “I’m stupid for failing my driving test” or, “It’s all my fault this bad thing happened to John. I should have been around more”
Step 2: Write down other reasons that you might have failed.
In our driving test scenario, this might be things like “I haven’t taken many lessons” or “The traffic was particularly busy”.
In the second example it might be, “I’m not the only one that was involved here – my brother, sister and mum were available to help – so was John’s friend Alex”, “John knew where to turn for help but didn’t.” or “Nobody could foresee the event happening – it was a quirk of fate.”
Step 3: Give your list of explanations a percentage of how much each one might have affected your final outcome.
Once you’ve done this, take another look and adjust each percentage so that, all together, they add up to 100%.
Step 4: Use the percentages to draw a pie chart.
This may not absolve you of all responsibility but it will help you visualise the other factors that contributed to what went wrong, rather than placing all the blame on yourself. Not only that, you’ll be in a better position to improve or solve the problem if it arises again in the future.
#5 When you’re stuck in a negative thought pattern
Experiencing negative thought patterns from time to time is relatively common. But when these thoughts begin to encroach on your everyday life, they can interfere with your relationships, sleep and mental wellbeing.
Try a change of perspective
Using the principle of cognitive restructuring (an integral part of CBT) you can begin to reframe destructive, self-defeating thoughts into a more helpful way of looking at things.
A useful place to start is with self-monitoring. Be curious about your thoughts. Explore them, test and challenge them. Remember, just because we think them it doesn’t mean they are true or accurate.
Be patient with yourself
Even with guidance from a professional therapist, CBT won’t solve all your issues overnight.
But give it time and attention by setting small achievable goals, and you’ll gradually build your skills, get better at catching negative thought patterns in their tracks and learn to understand more about how you feel.
If you’ve been feeling low for a while now, and you can’t seem to escape negative thoughts and unhealthy cycles, access our free CBT-based therapies to access professional help in person, over the phone or online.