CBT progress- PhD chilling out (finally!)

For the past 9 weeks I have been attending a CBT course run by the wellbeing service. This has been unbelievably beneficial to me- Not only do I now have a fab support network from my group, but I have also learned new ways to cope with anxiety and stress.

In this post I want to share with you a few of the concepts I have learned-  the things that really have helped me, and helped me to get my brain re-thinking in better ways.

One of the first things to know about CBT is that it really helps- if you put in the effort to do it, and  keep doing it. Its all about training your brain to travel the less travelled route- and this requires practice. CBT is hard going at times, it makes you sit down and identify truly what is causing you to become anxious- where the problems are stemming from. This is not always a pleasant task, but once you have identified it- you can tailor your CBT tasks to it.

Rules for living and your bottom line.

This is a key theme in CBT- (at least for anxiety and depression). Over your life your experiences will shape you beliefs- about yourself, and  others. Experiences, feelings, and memories feed in to these beliefs- for example: you get told by your boss at your latest appraisal that you haven’t done enough for a pay rise, this could remind you of  when you were younger and your teacher told you ‘ you need to do better’  in class- and you felt bad about it like you are not good enough . This can lead you to feeling that nothing has changed-  what you have always thought about yourself is true that you are not good enough. This viewpoint about yourself is your bottom line.

If you believe this about yourself you can develop strategies to help you work around your bottom line. For example, with a bottom line of I am not good enough, one of your rules for living could be- if someone criticises me, then I have failed. I have to always be right. These rules for living aren’t sustainable- and when something happens that break these rules- your bottom line is confirmed. That’s when the anxiety and depression will kick in.

Confirmation of your bottom line can set of a cycle of anxious predictions, of specific actions (e.g avoidance tactics) which then feedback into your rules for living- breaking more- causing more anxious thoughts… its a big old cycle.


So how do you stop the cycle?? This is where the re-training of your brain comes in.

Over the course you slowly learn how to try and break this cycle, by analysing your thoughts and testing yourself, and readjusting your thoughts to travel down the less negative route.  A lifetime of bad habits can be hard to undo though- and so this takes time.

One method that has really worked for me is the use of anxious predictions charts:

You are in a situation making you anxious. What is it? Why is it making you anxious? What do you think will happen? How much do you believe this will happen? How likely is this to actually happen? What alternative things could happen? And afterwards- what actually happened?

By doing this type of chart you can help to put your worries into perspective: by comparing what you thought would happen, to what actually happened.

Changing  your bottom line– formulate a new and more positive version of it. This sounds super simple, but is actually quite challenging- and requires the use of a whole range of techniques learnt in the course (which would be way too much to explain here). But, once you have this in place, it really helps progress.

The main thing is that you slowly realign your thoughts, and learn to be more kind to yourself, to think more positively, and to have strategies to use when everything is getting too much.

I can tell already that it is really helping me. There is a lot to use, and a lot to do- I have a folder stuffed full of notes and charts to go back to, and a bullet journal to keep me on track! It’s hard to keep it all going, but I can see it helping.

I have been working at my internship for the last month and a half (shout out to the great people I am currently working with!) and this change of scenery from lab has also really helped. I am already wondering how I will be once I get back in the lab environment (Hello anxious prediction- I will need to make a chart for you), but getting this in place now will hopefully help my transition back in.

 If you are having problems at the moment check out https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk/ (this one is for Norfolk area). There is a self referral form on the site, and you can find out all about upcoming courses and events. I would highly recommend checking it out- and looking at CBT in general if you are having problems at the moment, as it really does help.

There was a course book too: this is called Overcoming Low Self Esteem by Dr Melanie Fenell. Don’t let the title put you off- this doesn’t just deal with low self esteem!! It is a great book for helping anxiety and depression- with tons of info and worksheets to help you do CBT yourself.  And, it is well worth a purchase if you want to look into CBT, or have come through CBTY and want to continue your progress.


Banner photo:Flickr Martin Duggan


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