Is there truth behind the old saying “mind over matter”?
If a driver cut you off on your way to work, how would you react? Would you curse and speed up to yell at him? Would it ruin your day? A healthier reaction might be to say to yourself, “thank goodness he didn’t hit me.”
“Learning to look at situations objectively, instead of being led by our emotional reasoning, and thinking more realistically about each situation, can improve our overall mental health,” says Nasreen Khatri, Baycrest clinical psychologist, Clinician Leader of the Mood and Related Disorders Clinic.
Dr. Khatri, who heads up the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) program at Baycrest, teaches CBT techniques to clients who are depressed or anxious but she says almost anyone can use these techniques each day to improve mood and relieve stress. Although the premise of CBT is that maladaptive patterns of thinking can bring about depression and anxiety in those who are prone, negative thinking patterns can affect all of us.
Be your own therapist
Focus on what you can control, such as the way you respond to the things that happen to you. Make the healthiest and wisest decisions you can in every new situation.
If you know what triggers negative emotions, recognize those triggers when they occur and change the way you think to help eliminate or reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety.
CBT teaches clients to become their own therapist by helping them develop problem-solving skills.
“Everyone can benefit from these techniques,” notes Khatri. If you feel sad, irritable, anxious or angry, take a step back and ask yourself: What can I do to calm down? Is my reaction realistic? Can I look at this situation differently? Relaxation techniques can help you feel better as well.
Here are some techniques you could try:
- Step outside of the situation and think objectively. For example, ask yourself if a friend had this problem instead of you, what advice would you give him or her to help them cope?
- Recognize triggers that cause negative emotions. For example, if visiting the doctor is stressful, how can you structure that experience to help reduce stress? Possibly by writing down your questions ahead of time, leaving plenty of time to get to the doctor, and bringing a pleasant book or magazine to browse, in case you need to wait.
- Practice deep breathing exercises to relieve muscle tension. Deep, slow rhythmic breathing for 3-5 minutes reduces stress and anxiety and improves mood. It can be used in any situation, such as being stuck in traffic, waiting for an appointment, at home when you are particularly stressed or worried.
- Visualize a positive, peaceful scene to calm your mood. For many people, going to their “happy place”, be it visualizing a beach scene, family gathering, or fictional scenario, can help to calm and focus the mind in a positive way.
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