What type of therapy can help me deal with stress?
Posted on 18 December 2017
Everyone can benefit from an outside perspective from time to time, especially when going through change or crisis. Find out if Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) might work for you.
In the face of daily anxieties, Hanan Bushkin, a counselling psychologist practising at Mediclinic Morningside, explains that we need to challenge negative core beliefs (such as ‘I can’t cope, ‘I’m a bad driver’ or ‘I am hopeless with presentations’) by generating positive life experiences that prove your core beliefs wrong. That way, when stressors arise, you will be better-equipped to deal with the situation because your positive behaviours will be stronger than your negative, anxious thoughts.
Drinking too much, withdrawing, self-medication, procrastination, overeating and smoking (even complaining) are all examples of negative behaviours that offer instant gratification when we feel stressed. Bushin says that replacing these negative behaviours with positive ones is key in gaining control of our emotions.
‘Contrary to popular belief, we are more able to control our behaviour than our anxious thoughts,’ he explains. ‘While your thoughts affect your emotions which in turn affect your behaviours, it works the other way around too. Consciously changing your behaviour affects your thoughts and emotions.’ Bushkin explains that every time we allow our negative emotions to control our behaviour – for example: I am fearful of crowds, I will never cope in a shopping mall, I’ll have a panic attack, so I should rather avoid the situation entirely – we lose control and consequently increase our long-term fear, stress and anxiety.
Typically most psychodynamic and supportive therapies take place over months and years. ‘Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a shorter term approach, where the ‘why’ and the emotional component are handled differently, with the emphasis on coping now and ahead, he explains. It is typically a 4-12 session process, especially when the issue is an anxiety disorder or stress-related.
As Johannesburg clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde explains, you start with weekly sessions and move to every two weeks, then monthly, as soon as you’re ready. The emphasis is on using the tools your therapist has taught you, instead of coming in for a session, when things go wrong. When the process is complete, and the goals agreed up front have been reached, you can set new goals or move on. Follow up is on a need-to basis.
Bushkin adds that conquering negative emotions means creating experiences that make you feel better in the long run. In other words, instead of holding on to negative behaviours that make you feel better immediately, work towards replacing them with positive, delayed gratification behaviours that will build you up.
‘In time, and with practice, you will become bigger than your anxious emotions, and they will no longer control you,’ Bushkin says. Write down goals for strengthening your positive anchors, such as being sociable, living healthily, having fun, making time for relaxation and enjoying a hobby,’ he suggests. It’s an ongoing challenge that needs to be tackled systematically – and the goals need to be specific, realistic and behavioural. ‘Once you change your behaviour from negative to positive, you create a positive experience,’ Bushkin says. ‘Over time, these positive experiences change your core belief (from you are anxious and out of control to “you’ve got this”) which in turn changes your emotions, reduces your fear and increases your sense of control.’