by Karen Lloyd, PhD, HealthPartners Senior Director of Behavioral Health and Resilience
Imagine you have made a date to have coffee with someone. You're at the coffee shop, but the person you were supposed to meet does not show up. What do you think? You may think, "I have the wrong time or place. I am so disorganized!" Alternatively, "That person decided they didn’t want to meet with me. They probably think I'm not that interesting." Or, "Something unexpected must have come up. We can reschedule."
These are all examples of thoughts that happen automatically, all day long, whether you realize it or not. We may not be aware that some are neutral, some positive and some negative. Unfortunately, many of us tell ourselves way too many negative thoughts over and over. These negative thoughts can lead to stress, anxiety or depression.
The good news is that healthier thinking is a skill we can learn. More than a decade of research shows that people who learn to examine negative thinking and replace it with more realistic thoughts have better mental and physical health and are more satisfied with life. This technique is the basis of a therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.
CBT isn't just about thinking happy thoughts. It builds skills that help you recognize whether thoughts are productive and whether they are true. HealthPartners is the first in our region to offer an online CBT program called Beating the Blues.
This eight-week program helps you build skills that lead to healthier thinking with steps such as:
Know your thoughts
You need to know your thoughts to change them. Beating the Blues has exercises to help you do this. Many thoughts are connected to inner beliefs you have that you might not be aware of. For example, if you have a set back at work, you might think, “I can never do things like that right and I will probably get fired.” Instead, you could learn to recognize that you are smart and can learn a new skill to help you with the project at work.
Challenge your beliefs
Challenge what you tell yourself. If you think “I am a loser,” turn it into a question: “Am I a loser?” Then look for evidence that supports it or does not support it. Ask yourself, “Do I really fail at everything?” You will find some examples of success.
See yourself in an objective light
Pretend you have a friend exactly like you who told themselves a negative thought you tell yourself. What facts would you give that this thinking is wrong? Write it down.
Focus on something that creates positive thoughts
When negative thoughts arise, turn your mind to something else. Your mind cannot hold two thoughts at once. You can replace negative thoughts by practicing a favorite hobby, planning a vacation or talking to someone you enjoy.
Practice keeping emotionally fit
Keeping your emotions fit takes the same attention as keeping in shape physically. You can’t just work out once; the same is true with your mind. You’ve spent a long time thinking some thoughts that may be negative. You can turn new thoughts into a habit in a relatively short time, but it takes practice. More than 12 years of research shows that completing the Beating the Blues program can significantly improve depression and anxiety.
To learn more about Beating the Blues, go to healthpartners.com.