Thinking about your thinking – stress relief with CBT


If you are generally a reasonable, intelligent, lovely person, but, sometimes you find yourself responding to certain situations or people in less than reasonable, intelligent or lovely ways, then you are not alone!  When it feels as if you have been invaded by aliens or rabid dogs you are probably not functioning from your ‘healthy adult’ mode, where your pre frontal cortex or rational brain is in control.  This part of your brain is responsible for the executive functions, thinking, planning, reasoning, problem solving, language, decision making and impulse control. Some call it the Wise Owl part of the brain, some see it as representing our Intelligence. Whatever you want to call it, it’s where we make reasonable decisions, and where our ‘healthy adult’ comes in.

When we are stressed and being less than lovely, we are probably responding from a more primitive part of our brain, the emotional or limbic brain.  Deep at its centre sits the amygdala, or Guard dog that regulates our emotional responses.  When it’s activated by stressors  it can growl ferociously  and show its teeth (usually metaphorically, but sometimes quite literally),  if  a threat is perceived,  then the fight, flight or freeze response is activated.    Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, and a whole lot of other physiological symptoms, which have been helpful in our survival, but not always helpful in response to a snippy email or a conversation with a manager or your partner. They are also responsible for producing symptoms of fear and anxiety, anger and hostility and a whole range of unhelpful emotional responses.

They also stop the release of information to the prefrontal cortex where rational thinking and emotional regulation take place. This is the important bit, Cortisol limits access to the prefrontal cortex… which prevents us from thinking rationally.

The following steps  can help you side step or silence the ‘Guard dog’, effectively overriding the stress response to access your own rational healthy adult brain, which will then help you to see things from a different perspective,  have more control over your thoughts, feelings and your behaviour.  Try it, it really does work, but like anything it takes practise.  Email me if you are ‘stuck’.

Step 1. What is the situation that is causing you problems?

Step 2. What am I thinking/ telling myself about this situation?

Step 3. How much do I believe this thought? ( rate 0 – 10, where 0 is not at all, and 10 believe absolutely)

Step 4. How does that thought make me feel? Angry, sad, anxious, anything else?

Step 5. How strong is the feeling? ( rate 0-10, 0 not at all, 10 very strong)

Step 6. Is this a helpful thought? If so, how does the thought help me?

Step 7. Is this an unhelpful thought? If so, how is the thought unhelpful to me?

Step 8. Is there a way to change your thought so that you feel less distressed or bothered? What else might you tell yourself?

Step 9. When thinking about the situation, are you focusing only on one part of it instead of the whole part? If so, what part do you focus on the most?

Step 10. Are your thoughts of what will happen likely or not very likely?

Step 11. Are your thoughts based on feelings rather than facts?

Step 12. How much do I believe my original thought now? a little medium a lot (or rate 0-10 )

Step 13. What are you feeling now? Angry, sad ,anxious, other

Step 14. How strong is that feeling now? ( rate 0 – 10)