12 Aug 2016

Five things I learnt through CBT

I went back in to having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with First Step last summer at the peak of my health anxiety. It is a clever thinking therapy that works to challenge obsessive thoughts and
behaviours, whilst gradually exposing you to the things you are most worried about. At the time I was feeling incredibly unwell and had no idea why, no doctor would be able to tell me, despite numerous tests and my anxiety skyrocketed and skyrocketed, the worst relapse since I was seventeen.

I lived every day in dread, feeling absolutely paralysed and couldn't bear it, couldn't bear not to know what was wrong with me; no one would believe that I had something seriously wrong and I couldn't cope. I could barely survive, even though Oscar had started sleeping through the night, and had to ask my family to help me look after him. I was also terrified of talking about it on my blog.

I saw a new practitioner at first who spent the sessions saying she wasn't sure how she could help me and getting me to answer questionnaires, in no way interested in how I was feeling. On asking if I could discuss how I'd been getting on I was told that there was no time left and that it was a self help service, she could only refer me to a website. This made me feel so upset, so incapable of escaping this hell that was reality. Luckily I was able to see my old practitioner come autumn: she quickly got to work helping me to address my worst feelings. Here are a few things that were helpful for me:

. Keeping a bank of evidence. There were a lot of physical symptoms I couldn't ignore but my therapist taught me to work with what I could understand. Most of these I couldn't explain, so she taught me that just because a symptom had an unknown cause did not make it dangerous. Then I was able to put my focus on learning to live with it, learning what worked to relieve it and how I could pace myself. I kept a health diary to track anything I worried about - there were so many things I was obsessed with! - and all of these I have as evidence that I didn't need to worry in the first place. After all, a healthy body develops new symptoms and encounters different pains all the time.

. If you are looking for something wrong, it probably means that there isn't anything there. This is such a helpful mantra to me! I always find that I'm checking myself because I want to be alert and keep myself "safe", however I now know that if I actually did need to worry it would be obvious.

. Pick the emotional reaction/worry apart from the actual symptom. Identifying the awful ominous feeling that accompanies a new symptom as being completely unrelated and caused by anxiety is such a liberating experience. Once I have picked it apart the anxiety does not have anything to feed it and so I just have the symptom on its own to deal with.

. There are many different areas of my life, why do I focus on one? Try drawing out a large grid and filling each section with a different part of your life. One square can be for family, another can be your romantic relationships, a third could be for career and a fourth for health. Plotting out all of these different areas made me realise how silly it was to just focus in on one area until it took over the whole grid. I could see the effect it had on other areas and how much I was missing out on. I sacrificed everything else on the grid for the one area that, in reality, was only equally as important as the rest.

. Trusting your gut. This goes with number two and was a really tricky one for me, knowing when worry was actually appropriate. "But how do you know?" I begged, and I couldn't trust myself one bit, constantly having to ask and seek reassurance to make sure I was well. After I got better at 'sitting on my hands' - not having to call up someone with a new symptom as soon as it arrived - I started managing to trust myself more and more. I was very anxious about a new symptom, but I didn't need to go to the doctors, which made me think that, deep down, I knew the worry wasn't actually needed.

I have now finished my course of CBT with First Step and am being referred in to a completely new service for long term problems, such as my awful fatigue, feeling like I have flu all the time, hypersomnia and my eyes feeling horrible and uncomfortable. Alongside this, I will be starting Sertraline to help ease them. Citalopram was amazing for relieving my symptoms, so I could actually feel normal every day, but gave me intense mood swings and my low spells are unbearable.

I am so grateful to my wonderful practitioner for helping me to escape my anxiety hell. I am not recovered but so happy with the progress I have made! Do you know someone who has been plagued or suffered with anxiety? I feel that the name 'anxiety' is so flimsy for what it is, an awful state of life.


  1. I'm so glad you've found CBT helpful Elizabeth! I'm just starting a new job in Psychology, I hope I can be as helpful to people as your practitioner seems to have been to you. Best wishes for the new service ♥

    Jess xo | The Indigo Hours

    1. Thanks so much Jess! That's so kind, good luck on your new job, it sounds amazing! :D I think the thing that helped me most was my practitioner having amazing initiative, she knew exactly how to address and deal with my fears straight on which really helped me :D ♡

  2. I am absolutely so glad I stumbled across this post! I have been struggling and suffering with very similar issues for over a year now. As a teenager, I suffered horrible anxiety and depression and it was around my health as well. Last year I took a back turn and everything you have explained is exactly how I have felt. It makes me so happy to know I am not alone and that these things are real and aren't all in my head.

    Tash | becomingtashh.blogspot.com.au

    1. Aw thanks so much Tash! I am so sorry to hear that but I'm very glad my post made you feel better, I love finding people that have gone through the same kind of thing because it makes me feel less alone too. It can make life incredibly difficult but I'm so happy to have found you! :D ♡

  3. Hey,

    You left a lovely comment on my blog, so I thought I would come and pay you a visit.

    This post is very interesting for me as I have attended CBT myself for my OCD. I have just finished writing all about it and am due to publish it shortly on my blog. But, this was really interesting to read and although I imagine this isn't great to hear, its REALLY reassuring to know I'm not alone with my struggles. I know yours are different, but for ages I thought I was so alone!

    I have followed you on twitter now, to hopefully hear more about your story!

    1. Aw thank you very much! I'm so glad it was helpful and it's so nice to know you aren't alone in it, I can totally relate! So lovely to meet you! :D ♡

  4. It's amazing that this is all working for you and you're getting help with it! Good luck, I hope it all works out for you :)

    1. Thanks so much Marie, that's so kind!! ♡

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog dear. I love your blog. It is so girly, also the photos are amazing! Also love the lifestyle post as this ..

    lots of kisses

    Charming Coco

    1. Awww thanks so much Amy! So kind of you and I adore your blog too! :D ♡

  6. Hello thank you for visiting my blog and I love your blog it so eye catching also I'm taking some of your advice from anxiety since I also suffer from anxiety.

    Sending you lot of love and lot of positive energy

    Michelle <3

  7. These are all wonderful pieces of advice! Thank you for sharing what you have learned ♥
    Amy xx

    Little Moon Dragon

  8. I'm really glad you wrote a post like this - I think mental health is an important thing to discuss. I'm glad CBT worked for you and you're getting your long term problems addressed. It's pretty insane how mental conditions can affect your body and cause so many health problems that manifest physically. Best of luck continuing on with this.

    Alyse (J.X.L.) | Lumière & Lens

  9. I really, really loved how genuine and raw this post was. I am at a very low point with my anxiety as well, so I should probably give this therapy a go.. at any rate, I loved the lessons you shared; you are so wise. Keep fighting girl! You are so strong! xx

  10. Thank you for sharing your story and these brilliant pieces of advice. I am currently having counselling for my anxiety and depression, and afterwards I will be referred on to a CBT specialist. I will definitely keep this post bookmarked to help me through it. Recovery is a long process, but it's so great that you've taken a step in the right direction!

    Wishing you all the best for the future <3

    Poppy | Poppy alla Norma

  11. Oh gosh, I hope you do feel a lot better now Elizabeth! <3 Anxiety at this stage must be such a hard thing to deal with. I guess it goes in little steps, in which you have to work on yourself mentally and physically to understand what's going on and feel better with time. You should be proud of all the work you've accomplished now to get better! :)

    Julia xx

  12. With your obsessions and worrying, it almost sounds like OCD. But then again OCD and anxiety go hand in hand. I never know if I should say I suffer from OCD (which people only think are about washing hands), or anxiety (which people always claim is no big deal). Either way, I see what you have gone through, I know how hard and terrible it is. How easy it is to just want to give up, especially when starting CBT. It feels like the worst thing! Attacking your fears so heads on. I literally went through anxiety over my CBT sessions, but I'm glad I did it. And I'm so incredibly happy you did it too! You're amazing! Good job! You've done so well and your progress shows! I hope Sertraline suits you better!
    Is the hypersomnia something that's common for SSRIs? Cause I always feel exhausted and tired, and my doctors don't know why...
    Anyway - You're awesome!
    Much love,

  13. Glad to see you're making progess and able to talk about it on here and help others! Glad I found this post thank you x x

  14. Such a great post. I have had CBT for anxiety and it was really helpful so it's great to hear you're getting a lot our of it. I love that you write about your experiences openly and so well on your blog, I was 21 when I went through CBT and I would have loved to have been able to relate to and read a blog like yours then.

    http://fourcatsplusus.co.uk - Amy x

  15. Really lovely to hear someone's perspective on CBT, I've thought about going myself but wasn't sure. You should be really proud of yourself!

    Love, ChattaBox


    PS: I have followed you on Blog Lovin, on here and your Instagram :)
    Can't seem to reply to your lovely message you posted on my blog post!