Archive for ‘March, 2018’

Perfectionism is a very sneaky trait that a lot of people who have anxiety and depression struggle with (sometimes unknowingly). Perfectionism involves a lot of striving. It is a form of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking where if we haven’t met our perfectionistic standard, then we feel like we’ve failed. This failure is usually taken quite personally and tends to lead to bad mood and more negative thoughts (i.e., racing or ruminative thoughts).

David Burns shares several types of perfectionism that can lead to low mood:

1. Moralistic Perfectionism: “I must not forgive myself if I have fallen short of any goal or personal standard.”

2. Performance Perfectionism: “To be a worthwhile person, I must be a great success at everything I do.”

3. Identity Perfectionism: “People will never accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.”

4. Emotional Perfectionism: “I must always try to be happy. I must control my negative emotions and never feel anxious or depressed.”

5. Romantic Perfectionism: “I must find a perfect mate and always feel infatuated with him or her.”

6. Relationship Perfectionism: “People who love each other should never fight or feel angry with each other.”

7. Appearance Perfectionism: “I look ugly because I’m _____ (self-judgement here).

Taking a little deeper look under these beliefs can be helpful to see what the fear is that is driving them. Ask yourself what is the thing I am worried happening if I don’t achieve my perfectionist standards? Is it a fear of rejection? Of disapproval?

A helpful technique is to use is the IF/THEN technique….
IF this is true about me (worst fear), THEN it would mean __________ (this about me, my relationships, my future).

Now that you’ve identified the sneaky little fear driving your perfectionistic beliefs and tendencies, you will want to ask yourself the following:

1) Is this helping me to believe this? What are the consequences, both positive and negative of believing this?

2) Is it realistic to think this way? Does it work? Is it sustainable?

3) What would happen if I confronted my fear? Would the world really come to an end if I changed this attitude?

4) Could I start to look at this aspect in shades of grey rather than just black or white?

David Burns offers GREAT Cognitive-Behavioural techniques like this. If you are interested and want to read more, I recommend his book “The Feeling Good Handbook”

We’ve all got one…. An Inner Critic. That little voice in our heads that is really, really, really mean sometimes. It might get louder during periods of stress, disappointment, personal failure, or when we are down. It’s there, judging, comparing, assessing every little aspect of our experience. The consequence of believing our inner critic is often worse mood and a narrowing of behaviours that would make us feel better (i.e., feeling stuck).

Getting to know your inner critic dialogue is one of the most important things we can do in order to reclaim our power over it. Asking ourselves: When does it get louder?
What are it’s top 5 favourite critical statements? Does it like to tell us that we are failures, that our relationships are troubled, or that our future is doomed?

The fact is that we all have an inner critic. IT IS NORMAL. But how we relate to our inner critic- or how much we believe what it tells us – will be a big factor in determining the status of our mental health and well-being.

To begin to track down the inner critic dialogue, we notice when we’ve been triggered and go write it down. The first exercise I give my clients in my practice is a worksheet with the headings Situation, Feelings, and Thoughts.

Ok so step one is to become familiar with inner critic dialogue… Step 2 involves applying CBT techniques to begin to challenge the truth and helpfulness of believing these self-critical statements (stay tuned for future posts on these techniques!).

Check out the Resources Section for the Thought and Mood Tracking Form if you want to try to catch some of your own inner critic dialogue. Happy Inner Critic hunting!

Untwist your thinking by “putting your thoughts on trial”. This is a very useful CBT technique where we actually look for evidence that DOES and DOES NOT support our negative thought. Writing this out can help to shed some light on how truthful and/or helpful the thought is.

Take for example you did poorly on a test, and you were saying to yourself “I always fail and now I’ll never get into the profession I want.” Evidence you might want to look at would be how many times have you failed in the past? How many times have you passed tests? Does this test mean that you’ll fail the entire course? How much is this test worth of your entire mark? Does it really have an impact on whether or not you complete the course/graduate and fulfill your future ambitions? In six months will you still believe this thought to be true? What about in one year? What about in five years? Is it true that people who are successful in their professions have never failed or done poorly on tests?

Try out the Thought Record/Examining the Evidence worksheet in the Resources section when you get hooked by your next negative thought. It can be challenging when you first start to find evidence that isn’t based on your emotions. But try to stick to the facts just like a lawyer or a detective. And see how looking at these facts might change your perspective even a little bit!

Did you know that our brains are actually hard-wired to detect danger cues over safety cues? Evolutionary psychologists explain that by being slightly more attentive to danger cues, the likelihood of survival of our ancestors was increased. For instance, if a rustle in the bush was ignored it might mean a deadly snake bite or predator attack. So being slightly more vigilant was adaptive. Because this trait/tendency was adaptive, it got passed down through their DNA to us.

It makes sense… but only to a point, right? In today’s culture there aren’t too many physical threats in our day to day lives. Rather, this tendency most often gets (over-)activated in response to cognitive, emotional, and social cues (e.g., think about how safe you feel after watching the news, doing speeches, being evaluated in an interview, etc.) … enter anxiety, stress, and mood difficulties.

So if fear is stickier than safety, how do we cope with this tendency of the mind? Well, one place to start is getting back into the PRESENT moment. Once present, we can ask ourselves “Am I in danger right now in this moment?”. If the answer is no, then try to use your senses and gratitude to help you to anchor to this moment, where you are indeed safe.

Simple things work best, like feeling the warmth of the coffee cup in our hands, smelling its aroma, and feeling the gratitude of savouring those first few sips.

Bringing gratitude and presence into our lives can feel like swimming upstream. But with practice, it can help us to slow down and appreciate that we are in fact more safe than our minds will allow us to perceive.

Check out this 5-minute gratitude practice from Mindful.org:

A 5-Minute Gratitude Practice: Focus on the Good by Tapping into Your Senses