Anxious or Depressed?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CX, No. 1January, 2010

Cindy Green, LCSW

‘Automatic thoughts’ may be triggering you, but a new therapy may help

If you’ve ever experienced episodes of anxiety or depression you know how debilitating they can be. This month, we’ll look at some tips and resources to help you manage depression and anxiety using a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach (CBT).

CBT is based on the idea that we all have automatic thoughts that help to determine our behavior and mood.

Because our response to certain situations is often automatic, we are most likely unaware of their existence or impact.

For example, imagine a musician who has just finished performing in a concert.

He received stunning praise and congratulations from all but one person.

That one person said that this was a piece that could have been performed differently.

The musician immediately starts to discredit the praise, thinking that others were simply being kind and that he actually performed poorly.

No one liked the concert, he thinks, and he’ll never be successful.

What should have been a positive experience has now become negative and most likely the musician is unaware of this shift.

In the CBT model, the musician’s experience would be described as being “triggered,” meaning that the negative response was most likely based on a pattern from something in his past.

It can be helpful to ask yourself, “When have I felt this way before? What caused it then?” If you can begin to understand your “automatic” response to a situation it can help relieve the depression and anxiety you may experience.

As a colleague of mine says, “If I’m hysterical, then it’s historical.”

Once you develop an awareness or mindfulness of your situations you can look at what automatic negative thoughts were triggered and you can begin to test their accuracy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapists would refer to the musician’s thinking following his concert as a “cognitive distortion.” The goal in CBT would be to begin separating out the feelings of not having performed well from the facts; everyone with the exception of one person had positive feedback.

Similar past situations, where positive feedback was discounted, would be briefly explored to help make the link between this current reaction and the negative feelings that arose – achieving a more balanced view.

Of course, the ability to be aware of how you’re feeling in the moment can be hard.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, try stopping the negative thoughts by taking a deep breath.

Taking a deep breath and slowly counting to ten doesn’t take long and it can be helpful in refocusing your thinking.

Allow yourself a moment to ask, “Why has my mood suddenly shifted?” If you find yourself experiencing anxiety or depression, try to take a step back and ask if this situation is reminding you of something.

Are you having familiar thoughts that affect you negatively? If so, are they accurate? The ability to reflect back on such a situation is the first step in developing an alternative response.

For eight weeks this winter MAP will be running a support group called “Strategies for Managing Anxiety and Depression.”

In this confidential group we will focus on teaching basic tools to help you manage your mood.

Unlike traditional talk therapies, this structured group will feature weekly guided exercises and homework assignments with the goal of helping you take control of how you feel.

This group will run on Monday afternoons at Local 802.

Call the MAP office at (212) 397-4802 or e-mail if you’re interested in joining the group or if you have questions.