We spend money on improving our bodies, houses, cars…why not our state of mind?

About 10 years ago, a family problem shook my whole world. At the time, I was single and living on my own and started struggling to cope. I kept thinking about how I could help/change/solve the issue with my family. My negative thoughts consumed me and I couldn’t focus on the day-to-day or enjoy life. It was at a time when I hit rock bottom when I went to see CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) counsellor Chris Benfield and told her that, ‘I needed to take a holiday away from myself,’ as I was so sick of my negative thoughts. I also bought a book at an airport called, ‘Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ and read it all on the way to a real holiday in Sri Lanka…I ended up being stranded there due to the ash cloud (remember that?!) I practised Chris’ CBT techniques along with the book’s suggestions and came back with a vastly different state of mind.

To try and sum it up, CBT gave me practical ways to change the way I think. For example, ‘thought-tracking’ – Chris taught me to turn my negative automatic thoughts (NATs) into more positive ones by writing down the unhelpful thoughts and changing them into helpful ones. You end up not having to write them down as you can re-train your brain into thinking differently towards problems. CBT can help with lots of problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem and it can provide simple strategies to avoid common thinking errors such as, Catastrophising: ‘The end of the world is nigh!’ Generalisation: ‘Things always go wrong for me.’ Blaming and Mind-reading. There was a lot of talking involved in the therapy, including delving into the past but what I mainly learned from Chris and CBT was that you can’t change the past or other people, you can only change your thinking and attitude to it/reactions to other people and problems.

Life 10 years on is very different, I’m married and have a 3-year-old son and two step-sons. My wider family problem doesn’t bother me anymore as I chose to distance myself. When I first had my son, however, I experienced anxiety again but recognised my feelings and used CBT techniques to help. I have since recommended Chris to a number of my friends and the CBT book has been borrowed by at least 10 people over the years! I spoke to Chris the other day as I wanted to write about CBT for the benefit of others, she said, ‘CBT counselling is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. Chris believes that, unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past, ‘but the past can be explored to discover any unhelpful rules or assumptions. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.’

CBT is recommended by the NHS and Department of Health as the most effective form of talking therapy. Chris said, ‘Clients learn how to manage their thinking rather than just emotionally offloading. The problems CBT helps with are all emotional well-being including stress, anxiety, panicking and depression. It also enables anger management and relationship building as well as sound building of self-esteem and confidence. Worry around school performance, exams, work challenges and dealing with bereavement and loss such as redundancy are also managed by CBT strategies.’

We often don’t think twice about spending money on our physical well-being, for example a gym membership or beauty treatments. We also spent vast amounts of money on home improvement or to maintain and update our cars (I guess, arguably a necessity!) However, what is more important than a healthy state-of-mind. Often, we find ‘quick-fixes’ to problems and things like exercise and change of diet help, but for long term gain and getting to the root of the problem, I would recommend CBT. There is nothing wrong with focusing on that and there is no shame in struggling with these problems as we all inevitably do at certain times of our lives. By the end of my working through CBT I told Chris that, ‘I no longer want a holiday away from myself, I just want more holidays!’

‘Brilliant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Dr Stephen Briers

Chris Benfield – www.cheltenhamcbt.com


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