Therapy can be wonderful for one’s healing process, to help them refresh after a setback, or to help them prepare for changes. Finding the right therapist is as important as getting therapy itself – sometimes we might not mesh well with a certain therapist for a variety of reasons or they cut the therapy off too soon. When therapy is performed as it’s meant to, it can do wonders for our mind and mental health. I had the privilege of studying to be a therapist a couple of years ago – it was a 2 year college course and something I always wanted to study. At the risk of sounding grandiose, it saved my life (Or, at least made my life a lot nicer after learning some important mental health tips).
I thought it could be helpful to share some of the most practical therapy tips that will help you at any stage of your life. You could think of them as important tools to keep in your “life toolbox”.
#1 Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Can Rewire Your Brain
It is proven by extensive research that CBT can help rewire your brain. How? Changing how you approach obstacles and challenges (by rewording what you say and think) will completely alter your perspective to something more positive. A good therapist should ensure you get enough sessions where the therapy is being practiced in life. If you’re unable to find an effective therapist or you find therapy to be too expensive at the moment, I highly recommend either buying a CBT exercise book or taking a course online. It changed my life immensely and I believe it could change yours if you’re open to it.
#2 Positive Thinking Isn’t What Changes Your Life – Productive Thinking Is
It’s popular to think positive thinking will change your life for the better. While positive thoughts are needed, they aren’t what rewires your brain. In fact, it’s realistic thoughts that can help stop negative thinking patterns and create a more peaceful environment in your brain. When you use this method, little things stop upsetting you so much and the things you used to think were detrimental to your life aren’t actually so bad when you put it into perspective.
So how do I make my thinking more productive? By recognizing what your negative thinking patterns are.
#3 Learning What Your Cognitive Distortions Are Can Help You Think In A Way That’s Helpful For Your Life
I’ll give you a crash course in how to recognize negative thinking patterns (also called cognitive distortions) and how to re-route those thoughts to something more productive for your life.
All or nothing thinking – This is when people think in extremes. “If I don’t get this job, I’m a failure” or “If this person won’t commit to me, they’re just like everyone else and I’m not loveable”. Telling yourself that you’re either successful or a failure or that people are either good or bad is damaging to your self-esteem. Reality exists between those two extremes.
You’ll also notice a lot of gaslighting focuses on polarized thinking. “No one else will love you because of X”.
A great way to restructure these types of thoughts is to take a step back and look at how the world actually runs. There are so many situations, paths, and opportunities that will come your way. Be realistic and acknowledge your disappointment if something doesn’t work out. You could try thinking along the lines of “I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out with them/with that job, but now I’m free to pursue what is meant for me.”
It takes time to get it right. There are so many good things out there waiting for us. A lost opportunity means you can explore new options.
Catastrophizing – This type of thinking can create anxiety and stress. This often stems from childhood trauma, chronic pain, or other previous traumatic situations. People assume the worst for their future, because the worst has happened before. Sadly, they forget the other times things have worked out well for them and only focus on those bad memories. Try to think of times when something good happened or when a situation you hoped would work out *did* work out. CBT can help with overcoming these types of thoughts and feelings.
Overgeneralizing – This is when people take one event’s result and apply it to the rest of their life. Such as “I got a low mark on this math test so I’m bad at math or bad at school”. Or you had a bad breakup so you think you’re just bad at relationships in general or not loveable.
Studies have shown overgeneralizing can stem from PTSD. It’s a defense mechanism where you expect the worst to happen in a certain area of your life if you hadn’t had success in it prior.
Try to recognize when you’re telling yourself these things and reframe them when you can. Write down what your strengths are or consider some solutions that could help. Maybe in school you could hire a tutor or ask a teacher for help. Remind yourself what your good qualities are and why you deserve love like everyone else. “A bad test score doesn’t mean I’m bad at school. I just need a little help with this subject.” Or “I guess we weren’t compatible or it was wrong timing and there’s a better relationship out there for me.”
If you’re still having trouble, CBT can be beneficial to help you identify where you’re struggling and how to stop these types of thoughts from intruding your life.
Personalization: This is when you take things personally when you had no direct involvement or you take responsibility for something that is out of your control. Try to reframe the situation. Realizing that you did the best you could in a certain situation and not putting all the guilt on yourself can help you look at it more objectively.
Mind Reading: Assuming what other people are thinking can create a lot of unneeded stress. Some of us are pretty intuitive but even then, we can’t really know exactly what other’s thoughts are. In the end, it’s none of our business what people are really thinking. Their thoughts are their own. A great way to combat that is to consider all the evidence for why you think someone might dislike you or isn’t prioritizing you – that includes all evidence rather than just what will confirm your suspicions.
Mental Filtering/Discounting The Positive – This is when someone ignores all the positives in a situation and focuses only on the negative. “I had a really boring year” when in fact a lot of nice and interesting things happened for them. Only focusing on the negative is false thinking and it also increases feelings of depression and anxiety. This line of thinking is also dangerous because when you see your past, present, and future as hopeless, it can trigger suicidal thoughts.
It’s sad when people ignore all the good things going for them because they’re only focused on all the negativity. This is where the pain really comes from – if you sit back and listen to depressing songs and think of all the things you “lost” or all the things that won’t ever work out for you, it’s easy to start thinking that there’s nothing else to look forward to. But there is so much to look forward to. In this situation I would highly recommend therapy, because it can be hard to get out of this cycle on your own. Talking to someone else can help you see how much you have to offer and how much the world can still offer you.
“Should” Statements: This is when people say things like “I shouldn’t have to feel this way” or “I should be doing this, but I just don’t have the time.” This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt or sadness. A lot of times these come from certain expectations from family, culture, or even society. “I should have a house by now. I’m 30/40/50.” These do more harm than good, because they accomplish nothing other than make you feel lousy. Replacing should statements with empowering statements like “This is what I’ve accomplished so far” can remind you that you’re doing just fine and can still achieve the things you want through a series of steps (If you do really want those things). It’s better to focus on what you can do than what you haven’t done yet.
Emotional Reasoning: This is when people believe the only truth is their emotions. If they’re feeling sad, it means life sucks. If they’re feeling stressed, it means they’ll never have peace.
While it’s important to validate your emotions (It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have to feel sad or anxious, but acknowledge how you’re feeling and remind yourself a bad day doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be the same. Everything passes.) Try to take a step back and look at the reality of a situation. You can feel sad, but it doesn’t mean the outcome will be hopeless. It just means you’re having a bad day. And that’s okay.
Labeling: This is when people label themselves or others in a de-humanizing way. “Drunk” “failure” “only good for sex” “loser” “skank” etc. People use these labels based on their own experiences and apply a few bad situations to the rest of their life. This obviously causes issues between people because no one wants to be labelled as something negative. It basically discounts all the good qualities in someone and passes them off as something not worth considering beyond the negative.
#4 There Are Proven Ways To Combat These Cognitive Distortions
I covered these briefly under each distortion, but will now identify specific ways on how to overcome these negative thoughts about yourself, life, and/or others.
Identify the thought – When a thought or feeling is affecting your day and dampening your mood, you can identify what the thought actually is. What is it that you keep telling yourself?
Reframe the situation – Oftentimes those bad thoughts are black and white. Try thinking in shades of grey, think of an alternative explanation, use evidence to support or deny your thought, and try a more positive/productive alternative to expand your mind to other thoughts. An exercise you could try is to write down that thought on paper then write down a few alternative thoughts.
I.e. “The last two people I really loved left me. Moral of the story: Don’t trust men/women.”
This line of thinking will affect your future relationships and will obviously dampen your mood. Some alternative thoughts could be: “I know people who dated a lot then found their partner and now they’re really happy. Hey, that could happen for me, too.” Or “Just because those two people left, it doesn’t mean the next one will. And even if the next person leaves, it just means we weren’t compatible for the long term. All I can do is keep putting my best self forward until I meet the right one.” or “I’m feeling burnt out from dating. I’ll take the next few months off and try a new hobby or sign up for fitness classes to focus on myself before dating again.” Or even “We parted on good terms and keep in touch. If it’s meant to be, they will come back, but for now I need to continue with my life.”
As you can see, there’s so much that exists beyond one situation in your life. And this is just one example. 🙂
Do a cost-benefit analysis for your thoughts
Usually people have gained some benefit from certain negative thinking, so that’s why they keep doing it. “Anytime I’ve stressed about something, the worse did actually happen!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely thought that in the past.
Think of why you tell yourself these things. Do they help you gain a form of control over situations? Do they help you avoid taking responsibility in situations or put all the blame on other people? Do they stop you from taking new risks or starting new challenges?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
I’ve mentioned this before, but this form of therapy is so helpful. If you’ve ever felt hopeless or stuck, this therapy is for you. A good therapist can help you work through these exercises in a supportive environment. You can try online therapy through a company like Better Help if you’re on a budget; certain areas also give free or sliding scale therapy if you’re on a budget. If you’re a good self-learner, you could even buy a CBT work book (meant for therapists in training). I was able to counsel myself while taking therapist training in school and it changed my life. I was depression free for two years and even when it returned, it was short-lived and I know now it’s only a passing feeling. After therapy, you often bounce back quicker if future depressive episodes come because you have a foundation to work with. When you have tools to help you recognize negative thinking and restructure them to be more productive for you, it creates a sense of peace and contentment.
#5 Even therapists need therapy
Practicing therapists often undergo therapy to stay refreshed and to work through their own life obstacles (No one’s perfect). It’s also totally okay if you need therapy more than once. I’ve noticed I was refreshed after my therapist program, but I needed a bit of a refresher since years have passed, so I took some courses to become an online listener which helped remind me of those negative thinking patterns and how to combat them. They can creep up no matter how trained you are, so it’s good to always be aware. Anything that gets you back on track to leading a more content life is worth doing.
#6 Healthy eating and exercise are imperative to mental health
While exercise and eating a balanced diet doesn’t cure depression on its own, it can help manage it and make you feel better overall. How? It helps regulate your mood. If I’m noticing things are getting to me more than usual, it’s often a reflection of how I’ve been eating or I need to go for a run to blow off some steam. I can’t tell you how many times a fitness routine boosted my mood and changed my outlook for the rest of the day. Regular exercise boosts your confidence and gives you much needed endorphins to keep your mood up. It’s not a matter of “when I feel better again I’ll workout” it’s “If I don’t invest 15-20 minutes per day in my physical health, I’m going to feel even worse.”
I’ve heard some people say they tried working out and they were still depressed. There are probably other factors at play, perhaps they are grieving or still need to overcome distorted thinking patterns. While a workout won’t solve all your problems, it sure makes you feel better than if you don’t exercise at all – and we deserve to feel better. Over time, the routine will create a predictable constant in your life which is important.
Mental and physical health work hand in hand. Just be sure to do a routine that works best for you. If you’re feeling sad or exhausted, a run might not be the best thing for you – perhaps a long walk (That is leisurely and not an errand run) or a gentle yoga session would be more restorative and better for your needs.
#7 What People Regret The Most
From the various case studies I read for assignments and exams, most of the things ailing people’s mental health were lack of fulfillment. A lot of times it wasn’t even about heart break or not feeling good enough. It’s often because they feel “stuck” due to a past situation or a current barrier hindering their progress. There were a lot of mothers who didn’t feel appreciated, people feeling at odds with society’s expectations of them, or those being jealous of others who had the life they wanted. A therapist can act as a guide to help you establish where you really want to go in life and how you can get there. It’s amazing what speaking with someone who’s unbiased about your life can do.
Training to be a therapist did wonders for my personal development and while I haven’t become a certified therapist, I have done some work counseling people on a volunteer basis online. I’ve certainly needed a refresher since taking the courses and I’m not perfect – I have my own triggers and have said too much or not enough in certain situations. I hope people found this post helpful today. If you’re not feeling the best right now, please know it does get better (It did for me and for so many other people). Just because bad situations happened, it doesn’t mean that’s how the rest of your life will go. You might be having an amazing day and don’t need encouragement at the moment, however, if you think this post could be helpful down the road, please feel free to bookmark it or be aware of the resources that are available in your area.
Thanks so much for reading today! ❤ I wish you all the best.