Have you heard of cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT? It’s a branch of psychology that works on thoughts or beliefs to positively impact how we feel. Feelings that can be particularly challenging include feeling tense, anxious, frustrated, confused or overwhelmed. We can worry about the future, about finances or about members of our family.  


Also, when living with arthritis there is a certain degree of uncertainty, which can contribute to feelings of hopelessness. This is where CBT can really help.  


Looking at our thoughts – how healthy are they? 

CBT techniques can be very helpful for any of us, but particularly for those struggling with the challenges of living with a chronic condition. The basic tenet of CBT is that how we feel is often determined by our beliefs or thoughts around certain events or ‘triggers’. These thoughts are often ‘distorted’ and not rational or helpful so, by working on those, we can impact how we feel and how we behave. Having spells of poor mental health is a normal part of life for all of us humans. To go through life unscathed by any mental health challenges is highly unusual, or unheard of, so the first step is to learn to accept that being human involves having difficult emotions and times in our lives when we struggle. In fact, strong emotions, and difficult times, are inevitable and do not mean that we are not coping.  


The good news is that there are things we can do to help ourselves. Mental health is no different to physical health – if our thoughts are negative and distorted, our mental health will suffer. But, by prioritising our mental health, and putting in daily practices that help keep our minds healthy, we will benefit, just as our physical health benefits from daily physical activity and eating a healthy, balanced diet.  


If you think you could benefit from knowledge around self-managing your condition, learn tips on physical activity, healthy eating and managing your mental health by signing up to one of our free online or in-person courses here.  


Tackling distorted thoughts 

We all have that ‘internal chatter’ in our brains that goes on all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not. How mentally well we can be is determined by how healthy that is. That internal chatter can be excessively rigid, harsh or negative, for example, or it can be excessively worrisome. For example, a judgmental or shameful loop that many of us can get stuck on could be, ‘I’m fragile and weak – I’m not strong like others are and I won’t be able to cope with this illness’ or ‘People think I’m weak or less than them because I’m always fatigued or missing out on things because of my condition’.  


Another distorted thought that is common is ‘worst case scenario thinking’,catastrophising’ or ‘black and white thinking’. An example of this could be, ‘My pain is not getting any better. I’m going to end up with reduced mobility’. Jumping to the worse conclusions and focusing in on them can happen to all of us, but it is an unhelpful way to think and, in fact, can even make our symptoms feel worse. It can also lead us down a rabbit hole and eventually leave us depressed and overwhelmed. These faulty ways of thinking are common among all of us, but the good news is that they can be worked upon and it’s possible to change them for a better outcome.  


Identifying and challenging our thoughts 

We often believe that all our thoughts are accurate and real. But the problem is that we don’t challenge the negative thoughts we have – we believe that is just the way things are. Our thoughts about ourselves, other people and the world can often be distorted and irrational and we don’t realise it. So, by challenging those thoughts, we make a big impact on our mental health.  


One of the easiest ways to challenge our negative thoughts is to write them down. Next, write down the evidence to support the thought. And then, move on to devising alternative ways of thinking that are more rational, more constructive and more positive. For example, one of your beliefs could be, ‘Unless I do everything perfectly, I’m a failure (this can apply to work, parenting or general life)’. Look at the evidence for this – is it true? Is it even possible to be perfect? What is another way of looking at things? For instance, you could revise this belief to, ‘Success is doing the best I can in my situation’.  


Getting the help that you need 

As a means of self-help, CBT can be very helpful for many people. However, it’s not for everyone. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression that is impacting your everyday life, it’s important that you consult your GP to get the support you need. This may include medications, along with some form of talk therapy. For the purposes of this article, we are covering the basics of CBT that can help with mild to moderate low mood, but it is in no way intended as a replacement for seeing a psychologist, particularly for someone suffering from more serious mental health struggles. Your first step should be always to consult your GP. Also, in addition, if you’d like to talk with someone who knows what it’s like to deal with the challenges of living with a chronic condition, ring our helpline on local 0818 252 846.  


Find out more about mental health and arthritis, as well as mindfulness techniques here. Visit our website for more information about how to cope with the emotions associated with having a chronic illness here. To discover more about how CBT could help you in your daily life, watch this this video.