The Fear Monster Part 2 – Using CBT to Conquer Fear
We’ve all been there. Stuck in a negative thinking loop that just won’t stop. You go to bed trying to push down a negative thought you can’t let go of only to wake up with it popping back into your head. Rheumatoid arthritis has a way of working on us internally because there are so many things to “handle” every day, all day. Between trying to be productive before the fatigue hits, making sure you eat the right kinds of food, exercising just enough but not too much, to the physical pain you carry around with you wherever you go, and managing ever dwindling finances; there is a lot to worry about. But worry does nothing but compound difficulty so the quicker you can figure out a way to stop the cycle of worry and rumination, the better off you will be in the end. I’ve learned the hard way that it is a very bad idea to let worrying become a hobby. So, when I learned about cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, I realized that I had a very effective way to work with my negative self-talk so that it didn’t control me anymore.
Some history about CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy was formulated by a psychiatrist named Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s. He, like many psychiatrists in the 1900’s, wasn’t satisfied with the traditional Freudian model that had swept the world in the late 1800s and had continued for almost a century. CBT as a psychological technique has been widely studied over the years and is now being used in a variety of settings, including with people who live with chronic illness and/or chronic pain.
CBT is a simple technique that helps you to problem-solve instead of to ruminate. It requires you to challenge your thoughts and find new ways of thinking about the events or situations that cause you anxiety. As simple as the CBT is, it’s best to work through hard, stuck emotions with a therapist trained in the technique instead of trying it all on your own. As always, it pays to do your homework and work with someone who is certified through an organization like the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral therapists; I’ll share the link below for you to reference.1
RA and CBT: an example
For now, let me give an example of what I do when I’m stuck in a negative thought cycle.
First, I think the thought and examine it.
“I have too much on my plate right now and not enough support.”
How does that thought make me feel?
“Overwhelmed, frustrated, hopeless, lonely”
How does that thought affect my behavior?
“I isolate more, reach out less, physically tax myself.”
Now, for the CBT part.
What is an alternative thought to the one that keeps running around in my head?
“I’m dealing with a lot right now but I can prioritize what I have to do and take some things off my plate. The people around me are busy and preoccupied right now with their own busy lives and I’ll have more support when things calm down.”
How do these new thoughts make me feel?
“More in control, more relaxed, happier now that I understand it’s not just me who is overwhelmed.”
Now, how do I behave with this new way of thinking?
“I reach out more to people and offer support to them over the phone. I pace myself more, and am less frustrated as I go through my day and this helps the people around me to be calmer.”
CBT can help with RA, in conjunction with other means of help and support
Obviously, with RA, often negative thoughts aren’t so easy to shift. Dealing with tough facts of declining function, medications that just aren’t working, family stress resulting from your disease, the financial burden of chronic illness; these things are not so easily changed by shifting your thoughts. This is where professional support is the best course of action. In fact, I came to this conclusion myself after examining my thoughts through the technique of CBT! CBT is larger than just the example I just gave, so with some of the most difficult realities of RA, finding a therapist to help guide you is the best way to move forward.
I hope I’ve inspired you to check out this technique to lift the burden of worry and fear!
Here are a few websites to visit for more information about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?