Challenging Anxious Thoughts

As businesses and schools begin to open again, many of  you will return to the workplace for the first time in months.  As a result anxiety and overwhelming fearful or negative thoughts may begin to present themselves. These are uncertain times and it can be difficult to stop the repetitive thinking that often accompanies this stress. However, acknowledging and recognising these thoughts for what they are, and being able to challenge them, may help you work through some of that anxiety. Here are a few different types of these thoughts, called cognitive distortions, and suggestions on how you might challenge them:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, or “every”.
  • Overgeneralisation: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events.
  • Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives: Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
  • Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence.
  • Catastrophising: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.
  • Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.
  • “Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way.
  • Personalisation: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control.
  • Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.

Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:

  • Do I have evidence that this thought is true, or not true?
  • Is there a more realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • How likely is it that what I’m scared of will actually happen? What are some more likely outcomes? Am I overestimating the threat.
  • Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this worry?

Additionally, you may try saying the following statements to yourself as a way to  take the edge off the anxiety.:

  • This is temporary.
  • One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time.
  • Just because I feel anxious at this moment doesn’t mean in reality things are worse.

11 Top Tips for Exam Success

Do  you remember the anxiety you used to feel before school exams? Maybe you’ve recently taken an exam yourself? While many teenagers are able to cope with this stress, research shows that up to 20 to 40 %  feel so anxious they struggle to focus and lose valuable marks in their exam. The very thing they were so worried about becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Help your teenager with the following tips:

  1. We are rarely motivated to revise – suggest they decide to do something for just 10 minutes. Once started they’ll find they are more motivated  to carry on.
  2. Encourage them to plan a realistic timetable in advance and don’t forget to make sure they schedule breaks.
  3. Make sure they organise regular rewards eg. watching a favourite TV show.
  4. Let them know about apps which can block social media while they’re revising eg. SelfControl or Cold Turkey.
  5. Support them to have regular breaks – tell them their brain will be much more productive for it.
  6. Teach and get them to practice a breathing technique to use before and during the exam if anxiety starts to increase. Breathe deeply to the count of 4, breathe out slowly to the count of 4 and pause for 2 seconds before breathing in again.
  7. Encourage them to schedule regular exercise, eg a brisk walk while listening to their favourite music.
  8. Our minds can be inundated with negative automatic thoughts which come into our minds without us wanting them to, eg – “I will fail”, or “I’ll be so nervous I’ll forget everything”. Tell them this is normal BUT they are only thoughts NOT true facts and they don’t have to believe them. Support them to practice challenging these negative thoughts with realistic alternatives. For example, to imagine themselves in the exam room and being able to answer the questions and to say more realistic things to themselves, for example, “ I will revise regularly and try my best”, or “ I have done well enough before, I can do well enough again.”
  9. Remind them that a small amount anxiety is normal and will help their brain work more efficiently during the exam.
  10. Recommend they resist the temptation to go through answers with friends afterwards – this usually creates MORE anxiety and worry, which definitely isn’t what they need if they have more exams ahead!
  11. Finally, tell them not to forget there is life beyond revision and exams and how life will be when the exam season is over.

Children are often anxious going back to school. Here’s some tips to help them.

  • Chat about school in normal everyday conversation but keep it light and positive.
  • Accept , validate and normalise their feelings about school. It can be especially difficult after a school holiday or sickness, eg. “Your right, it can be nerve wracking going back to school after a break. I bet there are lots of children who feel the same way.”
  • Plan some fun and interesting things to do in the evenings and weekends to give them something to look forward to and remind them that school is only a part of their week.
  • Try and have regular family feedback time which makes it normal for everyone to share their worries from the day as well as the fun things that happened. You can role model this by telling your child about things which have happened for you, eg “Two people in the office are leaving this week and I feel sad about this.”
  • Teach them a simple breathing technique and let them know how useful you find this yourself.

Winter Blues – are you SAD?


Winter Blues – Are you SAD?

During the winter  some of us notice we don’t feel so good. I know I often feel more lethargic and find it’s hard to get out – especially in the evenings when it’s dark by five o’clock. How often do you hear you or your friends say “I dread the winter” or “I hate these short days.”

Some of us really suffer during  the winter months – in fact, recent stats suggest about 3 people in every 100 have significant winter depressions. Known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD for short), this has a lot in common with depression and includes;

  • feeling tired all the time
  • wanting to hibernate
  • feeling sad
  • lack of interest and enjoyment in life
  • low energy and motivation
  • being less sociable

Common complaints made by people with SAD are, just how difficult it is to get out of bed in the mornings, how often they feel sleepy throughout the day and how hard it is to resist the endless cravings for chocolate and high carbohydrate or sugary foods. It’s with good reason many people complain of weight gain during these winter months.

Cognitive behaviour therapy and SAD

Research has shown that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for these symptoms is effective and that  improvements in mood can be  long lasting over future winter seasons. Also you don’t need to suffering to the extent of SAD in order to benefit from these CBT strategies.  If you find yourself more fed up than usual, feeling lethargic and lacking motivation, CBT can help.

Specifically, CBT explores thoughts, feelings and behaviour and their impact on each other. Because motivation and energy levels are so low, people with SAD understandably reduce their activity levels, which in turn reduces mood and energy levels further, turning into a vicious cycle from which it’s hard to escape.

While many illnesses need rest and recuperation,  the opposite is true If you want to alleviate the symptoms  of SAD. If you find yourself stuck in these vicious cycles, meeting weekly with a CBT therapist can help.  This can help you to develop strategies to increase motivation, identify and incorporate enjoyable activities into the day and to recognise, challenge and change negative thoughts. Where you are an expert in your own experience, a therapist can bring skills and knowledge of psychological processes that have helped others struggling to overcome SAD.

If you find your mood’s not so good over the winter months the following strategies may help:

  1. Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible for example take a walk during daylight hours.
  2. Keep active.
  3. Eat regular meals.
  4. Remind yourself the days will start getting longer again in  the New year.
  5. Schedule regular time to see friends.
  6. Tell family and friends so they can understand and be supportive.
  7. provides an excellent CBT self-help guide for depression.