I started week 2 on Monday. The first part of the CD was pretty much a continuation of the introduction. I pulled a few quotes I liked --
Limitations social anxiety put on the author's life: "I exaggerated, catastrophized, and took everything too personally. Thus seeing the world as a very negative place, and seeing other people as dangers I needed to avoid, because somehow they were going to hurt me, embarrass me, or humiliate me. I had a very low opinion of myself, and all of my catastrophizing and personalizing just made everything worse. I was in a vicious cycle and didn't know how to get out."
"When we think about these real-life situations logically, we know our feelings about them can be irrational. The purpose of cognitive therapy is to catch this negative, irrational thinking and gradually turn it around into healthy, rational thoughts."
This next quote is interesting. I didn't think that CBT could be used as a tool for going deeper into the emotions. I thought it was just superficial. "Because anxiety is an emotion, we have to reach the emotional brain with comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy. Because if we can't reach the emotional brain and change our emotions, we will not have a chance at overcoming the emotion of anxiety." In other words, by changing thoughts, I can change the way I feel.
"It takes 45 to 55 days of repetition before your brain automatically starts to use these [anti-anxiety] strategies." Persistence and patience!
At this point, the theory behind CBT is over and the real practice begins. I must say that when I've tried CBT in the past, I've been excited up until this point. I'm much more comfortable with theory than actually putting such theory into practice. I'm still excited but a little nervous as well. I don't want to go down the same path that I went down last time. I want CBT to be different this time. At the very least, I want to finish it. Okay, deep breath. Let's begin.
The first strategy, called Slow Talk, is "nothing more than slowing your speech down very slightly." I can practice with this by reading the handouts, which accompany the audio series, to myself (out loud) each day. The theory is that once slow talk is mastered, anxiety will decrease because I'll be able to stay calm and focused. I think that when the attention is on me in social situations -- regardless of the situation, big or small -- I generally rush through whatever I have to say in order to get the spotlight off me. Slow talk will help slow everything down so that I'll feel less anxious and be able to get my idea across easier.
As the author indicates, I'm going to work on this daily -- by reading the handouts to myself for ten or fifteen minutes -- before gradually moving this process out into the world.
So, I must say that even before I got to practice this technique by myself, I tried to use it in the real world. Immediately after I learned the technique, one of my girlfriend's friends came by and I got in a discussion with him. At first, I felt very anxious and I was talking really fast. Fortunately, since the Slow Talk technique was fresh in my mind, I was able to become aware of how fast I was talking. Once aware, I slowed down and was able to calm down a bit. I even laughed to myself. That said, I really need to practice it by myself before trying it again.
On Tuesday I started practicing the Slow Talk technique. I spent fifteen minutes reading over the handouts. It wasn't easy. My mind would race at times, and at other times, I would unconsciously speed up. I'm used to working at such a high speed; it was very difficult for my mind to slow down.
After my bout with depression on Wednesday and Thursday this week, I practiced with the Slow Talk technique again on Friday for ten minutes. It felt easier and more natural than on Tuesday. I practiced again on Saturday and Sunday for ten minutes each day.
STOPPING AUTOMATIC NEGATIVE THOUGHTS (ANTs)
This sounds familiar: "Because I expected things to be negative, they were negative for me. I brought on my own worst fears because I expected them to happen." (self-fulfilling prophesy)
By the time I went over the handout (on this technique) on the audio lecture, I had already read the handout out-loud twice while practicing the Slow Talk technique. It's good to go over this material over and over again in order for my mind to become accustomed to my new way of thinking: "The more you go over the therapy everyday, the faster and more permanent your new thinking will become."
This process involves recognizing my negative thoughts, telling my mind to "STOP!", and then distracting myself to keep my mind off the negative thoughts, and finally replacing those negative thoughts with positive, rational thoughts. Sounds easy, but it's not.
I tried catching my negative thought patterns on Tuesday before falling into my depression. The depression itself didn't manifest from thoughts, but my thoughts certainly didn't help. When I recognized the feelings that I new would bring me to a depressive state, my mind reinforced them: The depression is coming. Brace yourself. There's nothing you can do.
I understood I was having negative thoughts, and I was trying to stop them. Yet, everything just seemed to happen under the radar. The negative feelings came, and my body just felt tense. I tried distracting myself with activities that I enjoy, but, at the time, I just didn't enjoy them. I wasn't content with anything I was doing. Finally, when I couldn't distract myself anymore, I just tried to accept what was going to happen through thoughts. Sure enough, the depression came. I felt powerless.
I need to practice more. I've already spent over a week on this second CD and I'm still not done with it. I'm going to work on it one more day tomorrow and try to remain mindful of my negative thoughts until then.
Last night -- Friday night -- I dreamed that I was teaching The Stopping the ANTs technique to someone. I remember repeating the process over and over again to this person. This must mean the material is moving past my logical parts of my brain and entering the emotional / intuitive portions. Or maybe I'm ahead of myself; I mean, I haven't really practiced the material much this week. Whatever. It was a nice dream.
I finished the week 2 audio today (Saturday). I'm already putting myself down because I have spent over a week on it and haven't practiced nearly enough. The author implied at the end of the session that I should be listening to the lecture all at once and then spending the rest of the week practicing the techniques. I don't like that method because I find it easier to break the lectures up, listening to them piece by piece, along with practicing. That said, I'm going to practice the two techniques again tonight and tomorrow as well. I'll start week 3 on Monday.
For the last step of The Stopping the ANTs technique, I have to replace my negative thoughts with positive one's. A list of positive self-statements are provided to help with this process. Some examples:
"I'm going to be all right. My feelings are not always rational. I'm just going to relax, calm down, and everything will be OK."
"I think I have more control over these thoughts and feelings than I once imagined. I am very gently going to turn away from my old feelings and move in a new, more rational direction."
"I can be anxious and still focus on the task at hand. As I focus on the task, my anxiety will go down."
It's important to get these ingrained, allowing them to seep in my mind. I repeated them to myself using the Slow Talk technique on Saturday and Sunday. Repeating them is good, but I want to practice them. It's hard practicing, though, if I'm not having any negative thoughts. Actually, on Saturday I was feeling down. But I didn't know why. There weren't any negative thoughts; there were just feelings. Are there always thoughts attached to feelings, and vice-versa? How can CBT work if it's my feelings that make me anxious and depressed, not my thoughts?