I was just reading an article that a psychology professor at Queen’s University (my uni) posted to help in dealing with social distancing during our current COVID-19 crisis. In it, he linked to a resource on cognitive behavioural therapy that I found absolutely incredible.
why am I interested in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Approximately once a month, I have a pretty severe period of anxiety and/or depression that lasts about a week and then disappears. I think it’s fairly normal albeit fairly debilitating, but I often attribute the intensity of these periods to my very analytical, introspective personality.
My regular thought-visitors range from stresses about my future, to disillusionment or disappointment with my character, to a sense of worthlessness, to insecurity about something or other. Each time and for each new “problem” (the lucky bastards get special, individualized treatment), I deal with it in four key ways:
- Bullet journal. A lot. This basically comes in the form of list-making and reflecting.
- Talk to my mom, dad, or a loved one about it.
- Start a motivated program or project as a form of distraction and control.
- Meet a stranger or friend for coffee or to hang out, to put my life into perspective, force me to talk about somewhat more superficial topics, and help me remember that I’m totally normal.
By the end, I’ve come up with a “solution”, usher the unwanted thought-visitor out of my mind, and move on with things. I get stronger bit by bit – building an immunity, if you will – and the next time a similar issue arises I remember the solution or refer back to it in my bullet journal.
Generally, the cycle seems to be improving and the low periods seem to be shorter and less intense. I don’t think they’ll ever be gone, but this is all to say I deal with them.
anxiety and therapy
For a while though, and particularly during my low periods, I’ve wondered if there’s something more to these regular periods. They happen a bit too frequently, and too intensely, and affect my day-to-day life a bit too much for my liking.
Influenced by our label-obsessed culture, I began to wonder: is there some label I could attach to this condition of mine to usher though-visitors so easily into my brain, ruminate on them, and get hooked in by their temptations?
We’ve also been seeing an increased discussion of mental health, going to therapy, and the impact of stress on our lives. People are more encouraged to seek therapy and to talk about it. The taboo is slowly being eliminated, and we’re beginning to connect with each other about these sorts of difficulties.
I relate to this movement and think it is fantastic. On the other hand, I’ve always been of the camp that I can solve any psychological problem on my own. I don’t like calling myself a victim to anything and tend to believe that circumstances are my own doing – or, at the very least, I have the power to respond to them.
I also believe, as someone close to me articulated very well, that there are severe cases of mental illness which are physical conditions. However, there are some cases of mental illness – and this is just a theory – which are a product of letting ourselves succumb to the demon within: to a wild point of no return and mental chaos.
In other words, I believe that we have the power to create our own reality, and that this power can be sabotaged to create depression and anxiety within ourselves if we weaken our immune system to those kinds of things by entertaining a mentality that we are merely victims of our circumstances.
For this reason, I’ve never seeked therapy or counseling of any kind.
On the other hand, a hormonal problem I have (iron-deficiency related) requires medication, so a few years ago I began going a few times a year to a naturopath. The naturopath appointments were straightforward and to the point, and the problem’s symptoms were solved within a couple months with the help of some suggested herbal supplements.
As an aside: I’d been to many physicians (medical doctors) about this issue but unfortunately, the common prescription to female hormonal imbalances like this one is the birth control pill, and I gave up after the first three doctors who all prescribed it to me.
When I moved to university, I neglected my supplements and the problem emerged again, so I decided to find a new naturopath in my university town. At our first meeting, we began with a discussion of the issue, but then to my surprise, the conversation began to veer towards my emotions. How was I feeling? What did I think of myself? How did I deal with university or other stresses? What sort of interests did I have?
By the end of the session, I was in tears. I think it’s relevant to note that the appointment had also, coincidentally, landed in the midst of one of those low-period weeks.
At the end of the appointment, my naturopath – who I am still working with today (she’s great!) – printed and handed me two sheets of paper. The first part of the document listed some supplements I should begin taking again. The majority of it contained psychological work I should consider doing to decrease stress and anxiety, which was related to the problem.
At the bottom of the page, it wrote:
I would say you probably have some anxiety: mood fluctuations, overthinking, feeling cold.
… back to the article
This final statement has been in the back of my mind (in a positive, maybe-you-should-approach-it-strategically kind of way, not as a diagnosis) since that appointment. I’ve always had a really great support system, so despite frequently wondering if I should visit a psychologist for an assessment and professional coping strategies, I’ve always managed to work through things with the help of the four strategies I mentioned above.
When I read the article, titled Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques and Worksheets, I was completely shocked. It was intended to provide some updated strategies for practicing therapists to use with clients and explained strategies like “Play the Script until the end” and worksheets like the ones below.
I thought I would be looking at some new, unfamiliar strategies but instead, I was looking at the improved, science-backed, worksheet-versions of my bullet journal spreads.
When I’ve reached a “solution” to a week-long state of sadness, stress, or general dissatisfaction with life, I write out some headings in my bullet journal: the causes, the emotions, the strategies.
Then, I fill it in, thinking deeply about what I went through, and take comfort in knowing that I’ve now written down the recipe for immunity from that struggle.
When I’m obsessively overthinking a certain situation in my life, I often write out a giant list of exactly what I am feeling. Often, this morphs into a giant list of peeling off all the nagging thoughts from my brain so I can then go through them one-by-one and cancel-culture them. (Or “disprove them”, in case you’re not versed in the most recent elegant addition to Generation Z’s updated vocabulary.)
The photo above and to the right isn’t the perfect match to the worksheet, but believe me I have spreads in my bullet journal (which I prefer not to share because they contain a lot of personal information) that are just long lists of everything I can rack my brain for that is going WRONG in my life. They feel much less significant when they’re written in tiny cursive handwriting and entrusted to my journal to await their trial.
What more is there to say? This worksheet is journaling at its essence.
Guys. I do this ALL. THE. TIME. And it drives my loved ones insane. Thankfully I’m not quite there to the point where I reveal this quality to my friends, but when something is bothering me, I cannot. Stop. Thinking. About. It. Until. It. Is. Resolved.
Talk about good communication. To me, good communication means constant communication. I just cannot help it. If I feel some tension, I won’t stop until we’ve thoroughly discussed what it is, how it’s making both of us feel, why it arose, and how we can solve it.
I couldn’t believe this was what I’d been missing out on all this time by neglecting to go to therapy.
what does this mean?
BUT I’m beginning to wonder if this resource affirms the scientific foundation for actually going to therapy, or simply proves that you can often solve things yourself before they get too bad.
A month ago, when I last had a very intense feeling of sadness, I began looking into therapy more seriously. Cognitive behavioral therapy seemed cool, so I was looking into therapists who practiced it. I hadn’t actually researched what cognitive behavioural therapy was, exactly.
I didn’t realize it was something that could prevent these intense periods in the first place, if done proactively in my bullet journal, on my own time, with some self-reflection.
For a couple months now, I’ve been toying with the idea of releasing some sort of a planner, or workbooks, or workshops. The former was most interesting and appealing to me, because it’s the one thing I’ve always used to stay on top of things. It’s something I would buy for myself, if it was done right. And cheap enough. (Ok, we’re definitely not thinking about that yet, but as a side note if I were to do this I would want it to be extremely, EXTREMELY affordable.)
I thought about my own pain points, and the type of content I currently create, and decided that I wanted to focus on the most essential life skills which are not, in fact, taught.
They are skills which I learned through trial-and-error experimentation with the help of a solid lab notebook for doing so – my bullet journal.
- How to take notes and study effectively and efficiently.
- How to manage your time.
- How to motivate yourself to accomplish your goals.
- How to approach problems creatively and innovatively.
This cognitive behavioural therapy article gave me a fresh perspective. I realized my bullet journal is more than just a lab notebook for skills. It’s a literal therapy tool.
i want to make a planner?!
What if there existed a physical planner-and-workbook combo that combined organization tools with the core principles of well-being and intention-setting in the areas of mental health, fitness, and nutrition?
It would be a tool to get your life together. It would also be a tool to set new goals. And most of all, it would be a tool to empower you to be a healthy, balanced, fulfilled person: physically, mentally, and socially.
It would have a science-backed approach to the most difficult personal things you might experience with it by your side: loss, grief, navigating healthy relationships, insecurity, depression, anxiety, even exam or performance stress.
It would be packed with day-by-day coaching to get you active.
It would contain strategies to help you break through eating disorders while learning to make healthy choices surrounding nutrition.
This would need a lot more input beyond my own expertise.
reach out to me
My background is in commerce, marketing, accounting, and design. I have interests, but claim no expertise whatsoever in, fitness and nutrition. And beyond my own experience managing myself, I have zero experience with psychology.
If you got this far, and you read about my planner tool idea without clicking away, and now you’re even in the slightest bit intrigued, I would be absolutely THRILLED to hear from you.
If you have any kind of a background in psychology, nutrition, or fitness, I would love to hear from you.
If this kind of a product would solve a pain point that you identify with, I would also love to hear from you about how we can solve it better.
If you think this product is cool buuutttt you have some feedback about the initial idea, I want to hear your input!
Shoot me an email at mistralspiritblog (at) gmail.com and we can get in touch!
Thank you a hundred times!