What you think during overwhelming moods may not always be the truth. So, question your thoughts using CBT.
Life with bipolar can be very hard. As a person with severe, daily and what truly feels like unrelenting bipolar, I want to share what I do on the tough days when I feel I can’t go on. It’s a simple, but very powerful process called cognitive behavior therapy I learned from the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. I first read Feeling Good when I was in my early 30s. I lived in Japan and knew that something was not right with my brain. This book taught me techniques that I use today.
For those of you unfamiliar with this life changing book, Dr. Burns explains how cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be used in the moment to deal with an overwhelming mood.
CBT teaches a person with bipolar disorder to question thoughts. It’s that simple. Questioning thoughts allows us to stop right in the middle of an obsessing, depressive episode to take a realistic look at what our thoughts are telling us. When I am depressed, my thoughts lie to me.
Cognitive behavior therapy techniques take insight of course, but many of us with bipolar do have insight.
Here is how I use CBT on a daily basis:
When I get the feeling that I can’t go on, it comes from being totally overwhelmed with moods and thoughts that lie to me about my life. I must question these feelings in order to keep going with my work and my relationships.
My thoughts: I can’t go on like this. I’ve been sick every day for years! I’m overwhelmed and don’t see the end to all of the pain I’m feeling!
CBT teaches you to say to yourself-
Ok Julie. That is totally reasonable considering what you live with on a daily basis. Today is just a harder day than normal. You are not sick every minute of the day even though it feels like it. Challenge yourself to ask for help and focus on what you can do to get out of this mood swing. Reality is that you are often ill… but wow, you are great at management. There are many days when you’re not sick like this. What do you need to use from your books to help you get out of this black and white thinking moment where everything feels impossible? What do you need to do to see what is going well?
Just talking to myself like this helps. It stops the bipolar merry go round so that I can get the thoughts of the real me into the equation.
CBT SAYS: Question your thoughts. Truly question them!
If you’re looking for another tool to help you live a happier life while managing bipolar, I highly recommend Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and the technique of cognitive behavior therapy. If you care about someone with depression who has trouble dealing with overwhelming, negative thoughts, learning the CBT technique yourself can be very helpful. You will then have specific sentences to say to someone who can’t get out of the depression loop.
Bipolar is tough. We are tougher.
PS: For those who are interested in the history of psychology, Dr. Albert Ellis is considered the father of this technique with his work in what he called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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