As you know, meditation is not only a fantastic tool, but it’s also a great way to practice being more aware of your own thoughts and feelings, such that you can then take full control of them. This brings us to the concept of CBT – or cognitive behavioral therapy.
What is CBT – or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? CBT is essentially a type of psychotherapeutic intervention that teaches people who struggle with anxiety or other issues, how to better control the nature of their own thoughts.
This all starts with perception, and this is where you can use mindfulness. In mindfulness meditation, we discussed where we mentioned that you should ‘watch’ the contents of your thoughts?
Try doing this the next time you’re stressed: what are you actually thinking?
What you’ll find is that when you’re stressed, you are imagining the worst and this is what is causing you to get worked up. And this is the big secret to stress: other than the physiological response that we’ve discussed, stress is really a result of your perception of what’s going on around you.
Put it this way: if you’re faced with a lion you will get a stress response as soon as you notice it. But if you believe the lion is your friend, then you won’t get the same stress response. Or if you think the lion is a hologram, you won’t get the stress response.
The reality doesn’t matter here: what matters here is what you are thinking.
And the same is true for all those sources of chronic stress we’ve discussed so far. If you are struggling with debt and with work, then your perception is that there’s a great big lion ahead of you. But if you can convince yourself that there’s no benefit to being stressed and if you can convince yourself that it’s not worth getting worked up, then you can overcome that stress and your response will be the same as if there was no pressure in your life.
What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)?
Cognitive Restructuring So how do you do this?
The first step is to note the thoughts that are making you more worked up. If you’re stressed about talking in public, then perhaps you are filled with thoughts like:
• What happens if I stutter?
• People are going to laugh at me
• I won’t be able to talk
• I don’t know my script
None of this is helpful – it makes that lion seem bigger!
You want to replace these for more positive thoughts but simply telling yourself it’s all alright won’t work. You need to genuinely believe it. To do this, you use cognitive restructuring. A big part of this is ‘thought challenging’, where you challenge your assumptions and test just how accurate they’re likely to be.
Are you really likely to stutter? Do you normally stutter? Would people really laugh at you? Are the people in your audience that rude and unkind? And if they do laugh at you – why does it matter? You won’t have to see them again. Everyone knows that people stutter from time to time. And a little embarrassment never killed anyone: it will just make you a better public speaker next time.
3 Instantly Calming CBT Techniques For Anxiety
And neuroscience is showing that strong emotions often precede thoughts, so changing thoughts may do little for extreme conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addictions.
So in this video, I seek to give you a sense of the true values and limitations of CBT, and I share 3 CBT techniques you can use for anxiety.
If you can do this as you go through your routine and be more aware of your state of mind, then you’ll find that you can prevent the stress response before it arises and rob your anxieties of all their power over you.
For more serious anxieties and phobias, you can even take this one step further and try what is known as ‘hypothesis testing’. Here, you simply test your fears by standing up to them and letting them happen. For example, you would go out onto the stage and purposefully stutter. You’ll find that no one laughs and nothing bad comes from it!
Understanding The Complexity Of Your Stress Systems
But what if you’re not stressed?
What if your work isn’t particularly high pressured, your relationships are good and you have plenty of money? Does that mean you’re fine? Probably not. Unfortunately, many other aspects of our modern lifestyles cause symptoms similar to those of stress.
One example is our use of technology and artificial lighting. The brain is designed to use external cues (‘zeitgebers’ to use the correct terminology) to set its own biological rhythms including the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
This actually triggers the release of stress hormones at certain times of day. That’s because stress hormones are one of the tools that the body uses to wake itself up when you are sleeping. The release of stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine triggers activity in the brain that stirs you out of sleep and makes you fully alert.
But if the light is on at night, or you’re looking at your phone in the evening, this will cause the release of similar stress hormones right when you’re meant to be relaxing. That means you’ll continue to feel alert and won’t give your brain time to recover.
And what doesn’t help is the way that everything on the web and on TV is designed to grab our attention and pull us this way and that – this has been shown to cause effects similar to ADHD in the long term and make it harder for us to concentrate on any one thing for very long.
How Physiological Changes Trigger Stress
The above is an example of how stress is entirely a result of what’s going on in your life or even what you’re thinking. Instead, stress can be a result of outside factors that physically influence you.
A way to think of it is like this: Physical Sensations > Feelings > Emotions > Thoughts > Behaviors That is to say that your emotions are very often the result of physical things affecting your physiology.
For example, if you’re in a colder environment, this actually increases the amount of cortisol and the amount of norepinephrine. Physiologically, this is the same as low-level stress and that’s why a cold shower is a great way to wake yourself up!
This is also why being cold for too long can make you ill – as the stress response is suppressing your immune system.
Likewise, if you are hungry, then this triggers a physiological type of stress. Essentially, hunger causes your brain to release cortisol due to a decrease in blood sugar. When blood sugar is low, cortisol is released and the body responds to this as it would any other type of stress.
Why? Because as far as the body is concerned, this is a form of danger. If you are hungry, then you need to become active and get out there in order to seek out a source of food. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is released alongside cortisol and myostatin which breaks down tissue to provide energy.
When you eat, on the other hand, this causes a sudden spike in your blood sugar. That, in turn, will cause you to release insulin, which absorbs the sugar for use around the body (either in the muscles and brain, or to be stored as fat).
This also has the effect of leaving behind another substance called ‘tryptophan’, which is found in most foods but doesn’t get absorbed. Tryptophan makes its way through the circulatory system all the way to the brain, where it crosses the blood-brain barrier and converts to serotonin (as it is a ‘precursor’ to serotonin). Serotonin is the ‘feel good hormone’ and it’s also a precursor itself: this time to melatonin – the sleep hormone.
This is why when you eat a large meal, you tend to feel full, then happy, then sleepy. Christmas dinner ring any bells? This is the opposite of the stress response. This is the aforementioned ‘rest and digest’ response.
And this is another cycle that your body goes through constantly: it moves from fight or flight to rest and digest. You just don’t notice this because in a perfect world, that shift will be subtle and you won’t feel it too much. You just move slightly up and down the spectrum, becoming slightly more alert and focussed and then slightly less so.
Nevertheless, though, this constant fluctuation does have an impact on things like your productivity and your mood. And it is also closely tied to the sleep-wake cycle. When you wake up, for instance, you are in a fasted state having slept all night: thus you have high cortisol.
Hopefully, at this point, you have all the tools and knowledge you need to begin reducing and combating the stress in your own life. This isn’t going to be an easy ride. Stress for many of us has become a normal part of life and habits are hard to change.
But by using meditation, you’ll find that you can reduce your base level of stress and rebuild some of the damage to your brain caused by anxiety.
What’s more, is that this will teach you to be more aware of your thoughts and better able to control them and thereby steer your emotions.
It’s time to wrestle back control of your mind. You tell your body when it needs to wake up and when it needs to focus. You decide what’s worth worrying about. And when you’re home and work is over, you use this power to allow yourself to rest, recover and forget all about the stresses of the day.
Once you can do all this, you’ll find your mood improves, your productivity skyrockets and your health is greatly enhanced in both the long and short term. Stress less, live more
What is mindfulness cognitive behavioral therapy? Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies in order to help individuals better understand and manage their thoughts and emotions in order to achieve relief from feelings of distress.
Is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Effective? While cognitive behavioral therapy has always emphasized the end result of the change of one’s thoughts, mindfulness really looks at how a person thinks — the process of thinking — to help one be more effective in changing negative thoughts.
Is mindfulness the same as CBT? CBT generally involves one-to-one sessions with a CBT therapist identifying which thoughts or situations may be a problem and working together to improve or change a particular way of thinking. Both CBT and Mindfulness encourage you to be aware of your thoughts and feelings rather than push them away or ignore them.