• Dr Jacob D. van Zyl

Me and Tree Blog 14

by Dr. Jacob D van Zyl tel 013 752 2000

Practice@37A Ehmkestreet, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, SA

BLOG (14/2) – check this blog for the next update in two week’s time


In the previous blog (number 13) I started to advice you in the handling of stress from a psychological perspective:

- prevention;

- to identify your underlying problems;

- maybe it is time for you to seek help.

In this blog (14) I would like to make you more aware of the significant effect of your negative thoughts within your experience of stress; and how you can make use of the powerful CABB technique (which I referred to in blog 7 related to the treatment of depression and anxiety).

The CABB technique in the handling of stress

The powerful CABB technique (a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy / CBT technique which I refined over a period of time) has been used with great success for the past 24 years in my practice in the treatment of patients with depression and/or anxiety; as well as in patient’s handling of stress. This can be attributed to the fact that it gives you back an internal locus of control (control from inside). People who feel totally stressed, often experience an external locus of control (control by something or someone outside of themselves).

To master this technique, it is very important to understand the cycle of human behaviour. Any emotion that you experience, for example stress or feeling overwhelmed; or behaviour that you execute, for example acting counter- productive, losing your temper or to try to avoid the stressful situation, is preceded by two elements in the cycle (from this cognitive behavioural therapy perspective).

1. Firstly, your feeling or behaviour is preceded by a key stimulus or event, for example destructive non-verbal behaviour from a significant other; an upcoming test / exam; an important discussion, meeting, or negotiation; or a stressful month-end.

2. Secondly, it is preceded by a thought or belief, in reaction to the key stimulus, for example: “She does not accept me for who I am”; “I will not make it” or “I do not feel up to it” or “This is just too much to handle”. This thought or belief then leads to the feelings or behaviour (as I will explain beneath), for example the stressed man now experiences stress, fear or feeling overwhelmed; and he acts counter-productive / he is losing his temper/ he tries to avoid the stressful situation.

In the light of the cycle of human behaviour, you can take the following active steps with the CABB technique to prevent the feelings and behaviour associated with stress.

C As soon as you start becoming aware of feeling the CONSEQUENCES, such as feeling stressed / feeling overwhelmed; and start behaving accordingly, like acting counterproductive, losing temper or to avoid the stressful situation, you have already mastered the first step of the technique! During the first step of CABB you only need to acknowledge, become aware of or identify your particular feeling and behaviour.

A Thereafter you need to find out what the ACTIVATING (trigger) EVENT is, that causes you to feel so stressed. Maybe it is the non-verbal behaviour of a person; an upcoming test / exam; an important discussion, meeting, or negotiation; or a stressful month-end.

B(-) Now you need to consciously determine which BELIEF (thought or conviction) you are becoming aware of in that specific situation. Usually the thought is either negative, irrational or catastrophic – powerful enough to make you feel the way you feel: stressed out or overwhelmed. The belief might be: “I am not accepted for who I am”; “I will not make it” or “I do not feel up to it” or “This is just too much to handle”.

B(+) The moment you have consciously determined the negative thought you are thinking, you need to replace it with a positive / more realistic BELIEF.

There are three conditions that your positive or more realistic thought must meet:

1. Keep the positive thought short and to the point, so that your conscious as well as your subconscious can easily buy into it.

2. The positive thought must be realistic. It must make sense, so that you can apply it.

3. You must formulate the thought in positive terms – it should contain no negatives such as the word ‘not’.

Examples of positive beliefs in the case of stress might be: “Perhaps her intention was to help me to become a better person”; “I will make it”; “I can choose to feel up to it”; “I can handle this by taking one step at a time over a period of time”.

For the technique to work, it is imperative that you repeat the positive thought that you have formulated, in as many ways as possible:

- Repeat it to yourself in your thoughts until you have made it your own – allow it to integrate with your thought process;

- Say it out loud, maybe behind the steering wheel of your car where no one can hear you. Hear yourself saying it.

- Write it down or draw it with pictures or symbols. Put it somewhere where you can see it often, so that you can also visually be reminded of it.

- Pray the positive thought to God, and feel how it grows within you until it is part of you, and you are able to act accordingly. This way your behaviour and feelings become positive and calm again.

Sometimes you feel the effect of the CABB technique’s active steps immediately. At other times you might need to work with them for a while, wherever you may find yourself. But rest assured that this powerful technique will bring change one way or another in the handling of your stress.

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