Healthy vs. Unhealthy Beliefs
"People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things" - Epictetus
CBT teaches us the idea that anxiety occurs through an event or trigger which leads to a belief which then causes consequence(s). We do not have control over events or triggers, but what we do with such is very important.
Anxiety attacks come from unhealthy beliefs, which fuels consequences that we can't handle, i.e. physical symptoms, bad thoughts, negative behavior. These beliefs are irrational but in the moment, can seem totally rational and realistic and cause serious damage.
Through CBT, I've learned about the different kind of beliefs—healthy and unhealthy and I am working on turning my unhealthy beliefs into healthy ones.
These are beliefs that have rigid and powerful demands using words like MUST, SHOULD, HAVE TO. i.e. "I am feeling anxious on the bus. I HAVE TO stop feeling this way." Odds are, that belief is just going to make you feel worse.
This book my therapist recommended called Visual CBT puts unhealthy beliefs into three categories:
1. Awfulizing - believing the situation is so much worse than it is. This is an "it's the end of the world!" belief.
If I don't get into this PhD program it will be awful. I must not get rejected.
2. Low Frustration Tolerance - believing you can't handle something to the point where you'll explode or die.
I cannot bare feeling this anxious in public. I cannot feel this way ever again.
3. Total Damning of Self or Other - rating yourself, someone else, or the world in an irrationally negative way.
I just had a panic attack in front of my boyfriend. I'm pathetic, I'm a burden. I should be alone. He deserves better.
If you read through this list, what do you think of the examples? Do they seem ridiculous? They do to me, although all the examples I've written are thoughts I've had in the last year. Where's the Kelly that's reading this right now and thinking "Don't say these things! It's not true!" when I'm feeling anxious? The whole point of CBT is to bring that Kelly forward in the present moment of an anxiety attack.
Well, these beliefs are quite the opposite of unhealthy ones. They are rational, realistic, and expressed as wants and desires. "Preference beliefs accept the reality of what has happened, what is happening, and what could happen, whether we like it or not." (Joseph & Chapman 6)
1. Anti-awfulizing - believing a situation to be negative but not the worst thing in the world.
It would suck if I didn't get into the PhD program, but not the end of the world. If I get rejected, I will move on and figure out what to do next.
2. High Frustration Tolerance - being realistic about how much you can handle something.
I don't like feeling anxious in public but I can handle it, like I have in the past. I don't want to feel this way but sometimes I do and that's okay.
3. Unconditional Acceptance of Self or Others - accepting yourself and others for what they are, realizing that life isn't perfect.
I don't like when my boyfriend sees me anxious but I accept myself for who I am and I can only control my own actions.
This has been a little lesson about CBT for you. Next time I'll talk about consequences of unhealthy and healthy beliefs. As I said in my last anxiety post: you are not your thoughts. So next time you're feeling anxiety, observe your thoughts and if they are unhealthy, change them to be healthy. It's not an easy process and it'll take work, like building a muscle—the more you work at rewiring your thought process, the stronger you will become.