This week’s big news on the changes to the pension age for more than 6 million men and women makes us all take a pause and think about the years ahead still left to work – for some less than others. Add to the mix the story on how life expectancy has ‘ground to a halt’ and we could be excused for thinking that our future is not very bright.

To turn the tide, and to help prepare us for a longer working life, it’s now more important than ever to properly look after ourselves; whether that’s to combat growing sedentary lifestyles, avert the symptoms of dementia (another big news item this week) and also manage our mental health – the list is growing!

As I head off for some R&R myself, I’m delighted to introduce a guest blogger for this week from our Platinum Member and Global Standard© bearer, NHS24. Kate Mollison, is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) – an evidence-based therapy treatment for a wide-range of mental health issues.

Kate’s blog explains what CBT is, how it can help manage stressful situations and ultimately change our behaviours so we feel more in control and improve our well-being.

Guest Blog

One of the amazing things about my job as a CBT therapist, is being able to help people to make positive changes in their lives, whether they are struggling with anxiety issues, low mood, or feeling stuck in a relationship, job, or their lives in general. Most people respond well to treatment and within 6-9 sessions, are in a better place.

CBT encourages you to stand back and monitor your thoughts, especially when you are getting upset about something. The idea is to be able to start to recognise patterns, to be able to challenge them and replace with more helpful ones. In essence, you start to learn to become your own therapist.

There are some common unhelpful thinking styles, which tend to be on the increase the more stressed we are. For example, you are caught in traffic and running late for a meeting. See how many you can recognise!

Fortune telling; Predicting the outcome of a situation, I am not going to be taken seriously, I will be ignored, I will miss out on something important, I won't know what’s going on?

Mind reading; Assuming that you know what people will think about you, and that they are judging you negatively. (You don't actually know what anyone thinks - most people are busy thinking about themselves.)

All or nothing thinking; If I don't get there on time, I might as well not go at all. If one thing goes wrong, the whole thing is a disaster.

Black and white thinking; I am either doing well, or doing badly, there's nothing in between.

Emotional reasoning; If I'm so upset, it must mean that what I am thinking is true. It will be a really bad situation.

Catastrophising; It will be a disaster; (how many times is this a self-fulfilling prophecy?)

Shoulds and musts; I should have been able to predict this. The reality is that you didn't, so beating yourself up about this is unhelpful.

Most of the thoughts that we have are habitual. Which is why most of us don't like change, as we have to think a bit more about things. We tend to be creatures of habit, taking what we think for granted, and don’t usually challenge or question.

It’s only when our feelings or behaviour becomes problematic and people come and get help, that they then recognise that perhaps they do need to think about our thinking. One of the ways we do this in CBT is by using thought records.

All you have to do is write down when you are triggered, by a stressful event, or situation; What was it that you were telling yourself about the situation? And what were the feelings and the behaviours that followed.

Being able to stand back and look at what’s going on inside our heads – can be useful, especially in recognising patterns. It’s also easier to challenge and dispute the thoughts when you see them written down.

It's a bit like learning a new language, however, with repeated practice, most people are able to change the way they think to more positive, helpful thoughts.

This is a fairly simple example, however, when people are being triggered every day, this is stressful, and can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety, low mood and feeling as if life is too difficult to cope with. Whilst we do deal with mild to moderate anxiety and depression, patients often present with high levels of complexity and emotional disturbance, however, being able to understand, and manage our thoughts and feelings more effectively, is a common goal for all of us.

If you are interested in learning more about CBT there are many websites offering free advice and information; being one of them.