When you find a job and career that works for you, it’s great for your wellbeing and mental health. Yet, many people will suffer at times in their lives in poor jobs, difficult work environments, and career tramlines with a corrosive effect on wellbeing. If you’re in that place right now, here’s a 9-point plan devised by Dr Chris Williams to challenge negative thoughts and anxieties based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
1. What is the situation?
For example, a student approaching her exams – friends who have finished their exams keep coming by asking me to go out.
- Where am I, what am I doing?
- What time of day is it?
- Who is present, who am I with?
- What has been said, what events have happened?
2. What are your negative thoughts?
For example, I’m going to fail, can’t take anything in, there’s too much to do, I’ll get kicked off my course, what will my parents say?
- Identify and rate your most powerful thought (0-100%)?
- How do I see myself and how others see me?
- How do I see the current events/situation?
- What do I fear might happen in the future?
- How do I see my own behaviour or performance?
- What memories or images do I see?
- What unhelpful thinking style(s) occur? (Bias against myself, negative slant on things, gloomy view of the future, jumping to the worst conclusion, mind-reading i.e. negative views of others, bearing all responsibility, making extreme statements/rules e.g. must, should, ought, always, and never statements)
3. What are your altered feelings?
For example, anxious, irritable, feeling low when thinking about the exams.
Write down and rate your most powerful feeling (0-100%). Am I low or sad? Guilty? Worried, tense, anxious or panicky? Angry or irritable? Ashamed?
4. What are your altered physical symptoms?
E.g. not sleeping well due to worry, feeling tired.
Write down any strong physical sensations you notice.
5. What is your altered behaviour?
For example, toss and turn during the night, can’t work long before feeling overloaded, staying in and making coffee for friends when they drop in (leading to more stress).
What did I do differently, e.g. reduced or avoided activity, unhelpful behaviours?
What was the impact on myself, my view of others, how I felt, what I said, what I did? Overall, is it helpful or unhelpful to believe the thought and do what I did?
6. What is the evidence supporting your immediate thought?
List all the reasons why you believed your immediate negative thoughts at the time.
7. What is the evidence against your negative thinking?
- Is there anything to make me think the thought is incorrect?
- Are there other ways of explaining the situation that are more accurate?
- If I wasn’t feeling like this, what would I say?
- Would I tell a friend who believed the same thought that they were wrong?
- What would other people say?
- Have I heard different opinions from others about the thought?
8. Come to a balanced conclusion
- Use the answers from 6. And 7. to come up with a balanced and helpful conclusion (rate your belief in it from 0-100%).
- Be honest with yourself. Base it on all the information you have available, weighing up the reasons for and against believing your immediate negative thoughts.
- Re-rate your belief in your immediate thought (0-100%).
9. What is your plan?
- How can I change what I do to reinforce my balanced conclusion?
- How can I undermine my immediate negative thinking by acting against it?
- Write your plan for putting your balanced conclusion into practice!
The above is not a quick fix. However, it is a process that works and I have used it successfully for my own wellbeing. The first steps to change are to recognise then challenge your anxieties and negative or distorted thinking. In summary:
- Observe yourself, notice what is happening around you and within you.
- Capture and record things using your favourite medium.
- Put reflection into your daily practice.
- Act your way into a different way of thinking and feeling.
- Ask your trusted supporters to help you stay on track.
What will you do today?