May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I am not a mental health professional, though I do talk with people about managing stress.
In talking with people I have found that some stress is due to their circumstances (time, deadlines, etc.) and mindfulness and/or deep breathing and relaxation along with talking, journaling, exercise, etc., can be of benefit.
For others, the cause of their stress may be due to unrealistic thinking. That is why I included a whole chapter in my book, “Sick and Tired, to Healthy and Inspired: 9 Steps to Prevent Lifestyle Related Diseases”, about stress. I have found personally and professionally that the principles of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are useful in helping people bring truthful thinking to their situation.
In honor of this month and as a hope that it may help some folks out there, I am including an excerpt of my book.
I have been privileged to coach people who have gone from being unable to even talk about food/eating/diet because it was such a painful topic, to being very realistic about eating. I have talked with people who would beat themselves up for eating a cookie and then proceed to eat the whole package. I know they have “gotten it” when they report that they can eat a cookie, enjoy it, but not beat themselves up. They have added healthy food and are enjoying that, and an occasional deviation from that is not a shameful event. Progress not perfection. Realistic thinking instead of ‘all or none’ thinking. It works!
EXCERPT FROM “Sick and Tired, to Healthy and Inspired
What situation recurs in your life and causes you to feel upset?
It is important to recognize your self-stressors and keep them from robbing your health. Dr. Albert Ellis, who developed Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), offers the ABCD method. (1) (2). The ABCD method helps you stop feeling victimized or stressed by your own thinking.
A = Activating Event
“A” is the Activating Event that causes stress. Pretend you are sitting on your own shoulder, watching your response to a situation. There is no right or wrong, only non-judgmental observation. This exercises your no-guilt thinking.
For example, you decide to eat a healthier diet, but at a friendly gathering, you are encouraged to partake in the fabulous buffet. You decline and decline until out comes the triple-fudge brownie with mocha chocolate fudge frosting, which you devour. From the perch on your shoulder, ask yourself:
•What do you think happened during this event?
•What would a nonjudgmental camera see?
* What were your emotional responses to the event?
Maybe you noticed that you were hungry or that you were feeling stressed from the day. Maybe when a killer brownie appeared, you wavered: “I want it, but I really shouldn’t.” Maybe the person encouraging you to eat the brownie was pushy not only to you, but to everyone else about everything else. Remember, there is no right or wrong here. Simply notice.
Write down your non-judgmental observations about the stress-triggering event.
B = Belief
The second step to reduce stress is to examine the beliefs that underlie your action/reaction in the Activating Event. As explained by the REBT Network, “[t]he beliefs that upset us are all variations of three common irrational beliefs. Each of the three common irrational beliefs contains a demand, either about ourselves, other people, or the world in general. These beliefs are known as “The Three Basic Musts.”
- I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I am no good.
- Other people must treat me considerately, fairly and kindly, and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don’t, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished.
- I must get what I want, when I want it; and I must not get what I don’t want. It’s terrible if I don’t get what I want, and I can’t stand it.” (2)
Here is how The Three Basic Musts might sound in your mind:
•My unhappiness is caused by things that are outside of my control.
•I must worry about things that could be dangerous, unpleasant, or frightening.
•I should become upset when other people have problems.
•I must have approval at all times.
•I must succeed at whatever I do.
•The world and other people must be fair and just.
•Things must be the way I want them. (2)
The thoughts that rumble around in our mind feel true. Closer examination may reveal that these thoughts are irrational. This faulty thinking distorts reality as it relates to you and to others. Irrational thoughts cause distressing emotions that keep us from achieving our goals.
Consider this about those negative self-talk statements:
- Is it all or none, it is absolute? (I must be perfect.)
- These thoughts cannot be fulfilled. (No one is perfect.)
- These thoughts aren’t realistic. (There will come a time when you make a mistake.)
- When your inner thinking and beliefs are challenged by reality, you become stressed. (Your belief that you must be perfect is challenged when you make a mistake.)
Are you feeling stressed just reading some of those beliefs? Do you recognize any of your own self-talk from this list? As Dr. Phil often asks, “How’s that working for you?” Are your beliefs helping or hindering you?
My expertise is nutrition, not psychology. But as a student of life, I have noticed that we craft beliefs to meet our need to feel safe, to feel loved, and/or to feel we have a purpose in life. If I am beautiful, rich, powerful, etc., I will be loved. Our beliefs stem from our experiences and the influence of those around us. Beliefs stemming from childhood experiences may come with our limited understanding as a child, and may not be relevant to adult life. For example, if someone pushed you down on the playground, you may have developed the belief that to feel safe, I must fight anyone who is aggressive. Someone once told me they were still fighting their childhood bullies every time they drove on the freeway. Some beliefs need to have an expiration date.
In the Activating Event example of wanting to be healthy but feeling pressured to eat unwisely, some beliefs may include: If I don’t eat the brownie, they won’t like me. I can’t control myself when it comes to eating sweets. It’s not fair that I have to deprive myself of brownies.
Write down what you notice about your thoughts from your Actual Event. Use these questions to evaluate your thinking. Remember: There is no right or wrong. Simply notice your thoughts.
1.Does my belief help or hinder me? Rational thinking is thinking that helps you. Irrational thinking is thinking that hinders you.
2. Is my belief consistent with reality?
3. Is my belief logical? For example, if I would like to succeed at something, does it logically follow that, therefore, I must succeed?
4.Are my thoughts about the event accurate?
5.What objective evidence/objective facts support my view?
“Brownie-Gate” may have you thinking, “I must be perfect in my diet,” or “I am a failure because I ate the brownie.” You might also be thinking, “I am responsible for how others feel, and I must not hurt their feelings by refusing the brownie.” How do those thoughts hold up under the previous set of questions?
C = Consequences
This is your chance to recognize how your thinking in your Activating Event has not been helpful. Many people notice that their stressful situations lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, irritability, aggression, fear, worry, frustration, etc. How we handle situations may strain our relationships. Are you willing to continue to live with these feelings?
In our brownie example, possible consequences could be eating the brownie, feeling like a failure, then eating a second or a third brownie as consolation. Or maybe feelings of guilt and shame caused you to take it out on another person or act in a self-destructive way. These are not patterns we want to continue.
Write down the consequences of your Actual Event.
D = Disputing Statement
The final piece of the ABCD method is to bring in Disputing Statements that help shift us from faulty belief to truer thinking.
Ask these questions:
* If your belief is illogical, what rational belief is more logical?
* What are alternative ways you can view the Activating Event?
* What is the worst that can happen if your view of the Activating Event is correct?
•What is the worst thing that could happen to me or my family, and how does this event compare to that?
Some disputing statements for our pressured brownie eater might be:
- Even though I ate one brownie, I can continue to choose healthy foods the rest of the day.
- I don’t need to please another person by eating something I don’t want to eat. I would like to be friendly with her, but if she chooses not to like me because I won’t eat the brownie, that won’t be the end of the world.
- I am choosing to nurture myself with healthy food. I choose not to eat the brownie, or I choose to try only a small bite.
- My choices may not always be perfect. A slip can be a learning experience. A slip doesn’t mean that I am a failure.
- I like it when people support me in my efforts to eat healthier, but it’s not in my power to rule how others behave. Other people have their own issues. Maybe the brownie lady only feels loved when people eat her brownies. I wish she didn’t pressure me, but I can’t change her. I can explore ways to handle the situation next time.
The Three Musts might look like this after you redecorate your belief system:
- Regarding yourself, unconditional self-acceptance:
- I am a fallible human being; I have my good points and my bad points.
- There is no reason why I must not have flaws.
- Despite my good points and my bad points, I am no more worthy and no less worthy than any other human being.
- Regarding others, unconditional other-acceptance:
- Other people will treat me unfairly from time to time.
- There is no reason why others must treat me fairly.
- The people who treat me unfairly are no more worthy and no less worthy than anyone else.
3. Regarding your life, unconditional life-acceptance:
- Life doesn’t always work out the way that I’d like it to.
- There is no reason why life must go the way I want it to.
- Life is not necessarily pleasant, but it is never awful, and it is nearly always bearable. (1)
I will add that I think that everything in life happens as it is supposed to. We live, we learn, we grow.
Do those statements feel less stressful compared to the irrational statements you read earlier?