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In 2012 an estimated 43.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. suffered from a mental illness (NIMH). That’s 18.6% of all American adults – an astonishing figure. Mental health issues are increasingly affecting both people’s professional and personal lives, but the 24/7 society we live in – in which we’re expected to be all things to all people at all times – can provoke and aggravate emotional concerns as well as make it hard to seek help for them.
While attitudes surrounding mental health are thankfully changing, people can still be frightened to admit they’re not coping. In today’s ‘have it all’ competitive culture asking for help can feel like an admittance of failure – which couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s important that those suffering recognise that they are not alone – that what they’re experiencing is exceptionally common – and that there are treatments that can make a real difference to their lives. Treatments that are simple, accessible and preventative, that aren’t intimidating, don’t cost the earth and that elevate mental health to the same level of importance in people’s minds as physical health. All reasons why we wrote our series, ‘This Book Will Make You Happy/Calm/Confident/Sleep’ based on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) framework.
CBT is one of the leading treatments for a variety of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and insomnia. Focused on problem-solving, it’s a brilliant and highly effective approach to dealing with issues people are facing in the here and now. It breaks the problem down in simple ways so it becomes less all-consuming and more manageable.
CBT is evidence-based and has been rigorously tested in trials. It’s been suggested that one of the reasons CBT is so successful is that it gives people control in a situation that otherwise feels very out of control, teaching them the skills to manage their own problems so they can become their own therapist. Our series helps readers to understand how they personally think and react to situations and then gives them the tools to make changes.
CBT in a nutshell
CBT is based on the belief that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you interpret what happens. How you think about an event will affect your behaviour, your physicality and your emotions.
For example, say you see someone you know across the street. You wave and they don’t wave back. If you think, ‘Wow, Steve just blanked me. What a rude idiot/He must hate me/I must have done something wrong’, it’ll start a negative cycle: your body will tense up or slump (physicality), you might ignore him when you next see him (behaviour) and you’ll feel emotionally angry or anxious. Whereas, just by interpreting the event differently that negative domino-effect stops. By instead thinking, ‘Oh, Steve must not be wearing his glasses’ your physicality and mood would both remain neutral and you wouldn’t behave defensively or aggressively in response.
This chain-reaction is illustrated below in a diagram we call a mind map. Reactions can start from any point. For example, you may react very physically to events and so can fill in the map from there, i.e. you receive an intensely annoying phone call (event), your fists clench and you grind your teeth (physicality) which makes you feel furious (emotions) so you kick the wall (behaviour). You then think, ‘Now I’ve broken my toe, marked the wall and I still have to deal with that annoying phone call’ (thoughts).
How CBT can change your brain
Scan research suggests CBT can actually rewire your brain. Primitive survival instincts like fear are processed in a part of the brain called the limbic system which includes the amygdala, a region that processes emotion, and the hippocampus, a region involved in reliving traumatic memories.
“Brain scan studies have shown that over-activity in these two regions returns to normal after a course of CBT in people with phobias.” (Paquette et al., 2003).
Studies have found that CBT can also change the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for “higher-level” thinking, proving the therapy can make real, physical changes to both our “emotional brain” (instincts) and our “logical brain” (thoughts). Amazingly these changes are similar to drug treatments, indicating therapy and medications may work on the brain in parallel ways.
A preventative treatment that’s effective for everybody
CBT isn’t only useful to those with diagnosed clinical disorders – it will make a huge difference to anyone who just wants to feel their best more of the time. Understanding your emotional health is the best form of future disorder prevention. By recognising how, why and when you feel you can’t cope, you’ll know if and when you need further help.
Thoughts aren’t facts
The most important message to remember with CBT is: thoughts are not facts. Starting to question your thoughts and their validity will help you formulate more credible alternatives to negative assumptions. You can then test out different ways of interpreting your experiences, allowing you to respond to events in new and more helpful ways. We explain the affects adopting this “motto” has on your thoughts, body, mood and behaviour in our series.
So, who needs another self-help series?
Self-help often promises grand changes without actually delivering. Either readers don’t know how to put what they’ve read into practice or the strategies don’t work! We wanted to write a series that really made a difference to people by providing straight-forward and immediate advice, with no overly-complicated and off-putting jargon, giving them the tools to change their lives.
Each book focuses on a different issue (so they’ll know everything in the book is relevant to what they’re going through) and provides simple strategies that are proven to work, backed up with real examples and anecdotes.
We believe that looking after your emotional wellbeing is an integral part of having a good life. Looking after your mental health should be as normal and natural as looking after your physical health – it’s essential for feeling happy, calm, content and confident. Hopefully our books will help spread that message.
Dr Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar, co-authors of This Book Will Make You Happy/Calm/Confident/Sleep, out now, Quercus $12.99
Paquette, V., Lévesque, J., Mensour, B., Leroux, J., Beaudoin, G., Bourgouin, P., & Beauregard, M. (2003). “Change the mind and you change the brain”: effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy on the neural correlates of spider phobia NeuroImage, 18 (2), 401-409 DOI: 10.1016/S1053-8119(02)00030-7
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