Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Every Day Life

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular short-term, evidence-based modality used by many mental health practitioners for the treatment of an assortment of mental disorders that teaches applicable skills for everyday life. The theory behind it goes something like this: Our thoughts affect our emotions, which in turn, affect our actions. So if we ruminate over negative thoughts that enter our minds, those thoughts will make us feel like crap. Feeling like crap will incite us to make unwise, rash, myopic decisions.

Controlling our thoughts is often easier said than done. I struggle with obsessive, negative, sometimes paranoid thoughts constantly and often am controlled by my thoughts instead of my thoughts being controlled by me. So what are some ways of controlling thoughts researchers and mental health practitioners advise? One is meditation. This practice involves emptying the mind and welcoming whatever thoughts want to flow through, regardless of content, and without judgment. To quote Buddhist monk and teacher Sunryu Suzuki: “Leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” This encourages desensitization to negative thoughts and surrender to the inevitability that they will come up at least every once in a while.

Journaling is another way to handle negative thoughts in a healthful manner. Writing them down, with or without showing them to anybody, can be a healthful way to feel that you’ve gotten them out of your system and can now move on — that you’ve “handled” them instead of bottling them up inside and avoiding acknowledging their existence. Writing them down can also make possible solutions to a problem clearer.

Reframing thoughts is another helpful strategy. Reframing thoughts involves seeing the positive even in negative situations, much like the titular character in the movie Pollyanna. For example, not getting hired could mean you get an even better job.

Breathing exercises can also aid in controlling the negative emotions that arise when we have a negative thought by slowing, deepening, and evening out our breathing pattern and relaxing our neck, back, and shoulders. The medical and mental health communities now realize how deep the connection is between physical and mental health, and this is a perfect example.

Engaging in pleasurable activities, such as hobbies, is another way to deal with negative thoughts and emotions, because they are less likely to pop up while you are doing something you enjoy. These activities result in feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that naturally put you in a good mood.

These are just some of the techniques that could be helpful in dealing with negative, controlling thoughts and allowing you to take back your life. Negative thoughts are a natural part of life and will never entirely go away. However, it is possible to decrease their intrusion into your life, as well as the intensity of their effect when they do appear. And due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, after a while of dealing with negative thoughts and emotions in appropriate ways, it will become second-nature to do so. Does anyone else find themselves dealing with negative thoughts, and what practices have you found useful in managing them?