Buy this book and read at least the first four chapters.
I'm seeing a counselor to help me through my divorce and this was the homework she gave me after our first meeting. From what I understand, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, was one of the first books published on cognitive behavioral therapy that was aimed at lay people. It's very easy to read, but most of all, incredibly helpful.
The point is to teach you how negative thoughts create negative feelings and moods, like depression and anxiety. By learning how to identify various patterns of cognitive distortion (basically, mistaken, illogical thinking) through different exercises and activities, we can retake control of our mood and get back to feeling good again.
It might sound a little hokey from the way I've described it, but the book is most definitely not. When Burns explains cognitive behavioral therapy, the answer seems so obvious and clear: I'm going through a difficult time, my brain is filled with negative thoughts, and those thoughts are making me feel even worse. When I analyze those thoughts using the methods prescribed by Burns, I realized they weren't actually based in reality - they're distortions of reality. And as I realize this, it's easier to shut them down, and my mood has improved accordingly. It's really very cool. It's not a linear improvement, but I can tell I'm on the right track.
One of the coolest takeaways I've learned from this book so far is that the key to self-confidence is getting rid of these negative thoughts. I'm a child of the 90's, so I grew up in a culture of participation trophies and "good job!" at every turn in what I think everyone now agrees was a misguided attempt to boost self-confidence in kids. The idea that self-confidence may in fact be more about silencing that inner-critic instead of creating some kind of false inner-cheerleader was sort of mind-blowing.
So if there's any silver lining to my divorce, it's that it has encouraged me to seek counseling from a professional who has introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy, and I can already tell these are techniques I'll be able to use for the rest of my life to help me manage my anxiety. At the moment, it's really helping with my situational depression, which is hardly unexpected given the circumstances.
If you're curious about the different kinds of cognitive distortions we all experience to some degree, here's a link that lists the ones that Burns identifies as the most typical. One of the exercises you can do is write down your negative thoughts as you experience them, then identify which cognitive distortions they fit on that list, followed by a more rational response to each distortion (basically, explain to yourself why that negative thought isn't actually true). Study after study has shown that when this type of cognitive behavioral therapy is used in conjunction with medication, it's more effective at treating depression than just medication alone.
I've mostly written this blog post so I can come back to it and easily look up those cognitive distortions as I'm working on these kinds of exercises every day, but maybe you'll find it helpful too if you're struggling with negative feelings of any kind at any point in your life, not just divorce.
Also, I hope readers of this blog understand why I'm writing about divorce right now. It won't be forever, I promise. I hope to get back to discussing reading and writing again soon, but for the moment, I really need to do this in order to focus on getting better and figuring out the new "normal" in my life.
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