Occasional negative thoughts are a common feature of the human experience. While they can sometimes be justified, purposeful, and helpful in identifying pain and avoiding dangerous situations, they can also be irrational, keeping us trapped in a downward spiral of fear, avoidance, and eventually depression and anxiety. To change how we feel, says Corinne Coe in her new book, Heal Your Mind, Heal Your Life, we have to start with how we think.
“Based on my clinical experience in treating people with mental illness, the key to overcoming psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety is to treat at the cognition level rather than the emotion or physical level,” writes Coe.
It is the fear that results from irrational or catastrophic thinking, Coe contends, that causes us to avoid situations, feel trapped, and exist in an unfulfilled life.
Over time, our fear response becomes more and more exaggerated, resulting in the release of larger amounts of adrenaline, which then affects as many as sixty different hormones in the body. Especially when fear is unjustified, we remain a victim to it, learning only to avoid those situations that may trigger fear. As a result, we become trapped in our comfort zone.
“Irrational/unrealistic fear of dealing with challenging people and situation(s), and of interacting with others, and the external environment, will result in an unfulfilled, dissatisfied life,” writes Coe.
The difference between people who overreact with irrational fear and those who don’t lies in perception. The key then, is to master the accurate interpretation of our perceptions, a process which begins with our core beliefs.
“Although we are in control of what meaning we give a situation, that control largely depends on our core belief system. Cleaning out our ‘filter’ of distorted beliefs is a critical step in regaining control over of emotions, behavior, and our life,” writes Coe.
Our perceptions are reinforced by our beliefs, but our beliefs also cause us to behave in ways that then support our perceptions. So being aware of our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions is the first step to being able to change them.
“Since our perceptions and beliefs govern how we feel about ourselves and how we behave, then it is crucial that we see ourselves for who we actually are – our ‘true self,’” writes Coe.
When our sense of self-worth is conditional or based on external factors, the result is a disparity between our real-self, and our ideal-self. The ideal-self, according to Coe, is not real; it is determined by the expectations and standards we feel placed upon us. These often include expectations we feel we should live up to, but can’t.
The way we learn to accept ourselves unconditionally and develop healthy self-esteem is through objectively screening the events in our lives. Through differentiating whether criticism is destructive or constructive, for example, we can either learn to overcome our weaknesses, adapt our lives around them, or confront the source of criticism.
“Letting go of unjustified criticisms that you have received from others and self-criticism, and only accepting those that are supported by evidence is the first step in your journey to recovery,” writes Coe.
Offering several useful examples, Coe demonstrates how we can use simple charts to collect evidence for and against our criticisms, ultimately shifting ourselves away from our attachment to our own perceptual biases. Through setting realistic standards, recognizing what we have control over (internal control) and what we don’t (external control), and identifying cognitive distortions, we can also avoid over-committing and over-pleasing; two common symptoms of low self-worth.
Coe offers objective screening as another useful way to identify our strengths and skills, ultimately enabling us to develop a ‘true identity’ which makes it much easier to seek what we want and need for a healthy, fulfilling life. This assessment technique further forms the basis of responding proactively to situations in our lives.
The difference between a reactive response and a proactive one, Coe writes, is that proactive responses assess the situation before allowing an emotional response. A reactive response, on the other hand, allows emotion to take over before an accurate assessment of the situation has occurred.
“While it is normal for you to respond to some situations by releasing a certain level of adrenalin to help you deal with the situation effectively and efficiently, it is not a normal response for your system to become so ‘flooded’ with adrenalin that is only going to make dealing with the situation more difficult,” writes Coe.
Assertiveness is also an important component of psychological health. It helps us become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, grow from mistakes and leave situations knowing that we did our best, preserving both our relationships and our self-esteem. Here Coe offers several helpful exercises and activities to help readers understand what their rights are, and how to assert them.
Practical, readable, and filled with activities and exercises to correct the negative thought patterns that often underlie psychological distress, those who suffer from depression and anxiety will find Coe’s book a helpful guide along their path toward a happier, and more satisfying life.
Heal Your Mind, Heal Your Life: A Self-Help Book for Depression and Anxiety
Softcover, 144 pages