Thought Record CBT Exercises to Improve Mental Health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that helps you break down your problems into thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and behaviors. This type of therapy centers on the interconnectedness of all of these aspects and helps you understand that what you think can affect how you feel emotionally and physically and, by extension, how you act and the decisions you make.

If you are struggling with poor mental health, there are several thought record CBT exercises you can employ to improve your mental health.

CBT Exercise #1: Reframing Thoughts

Everyone experiences worry and anxiety now and again, but sometimes anxious thoughts aren't based on any evidence, and when that happens, they can be a problem.

When that happens, it's important that you reframe your thoughts by catching them and changing them. Taking a step back to challenge unhelpful thoughts that you catch and change them into helpful thoughts can:

  • Improve how you sleep
  • Boost your mood
  • Reduce stress hormones like cortisol
  • Improve your resilience and ability to deal with anxiety or stress

In order to reframe thoughts, you need to know what you're looking for. Some of the most common examples of unhelpful thoughts include:

  • Catastrophizing and always expecting the worst outcome
  • Only focusing on the bad side of any situation
  • Using black-and-white thinking where something is either good or bad
  • Assuming that you are the reason for anything negative in your life

When you catch yourself doing that, you need to examine and reframe that thought. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have any evidence for this thought?
  • Are there any other potential outcomes?
  • How likely is it that the worst possible scenario will happen?
  • What would I say if a friend of mine talked about their circumstances this way?

Reframing your thoughts could be something as simple as changing, “I can’t do this. I am a total failure, and everyone will hate me” into “I'm going to do my best, and I am very prepared for what comes next.”

CBT Exercise #2: Worry Tree

There is no way to completely eliminate worry or anxiety from your life, but you can control the extent to which you let that worry or anxiety infiltrate every part of your day. With thought records and CBT exercises, you can set aside specific worry time to write out and tackle the things that are occupying your thoughts.

Set aside ten to twenty minutes per day where all you do is focus on the things that are worrying you. That way, whenever those worries manifest throughout the rest of your day, you can push them to the side, knowing that you have a dedicated time and place where you will focus on them.

During this time:

  • Write down the things that are upsetting you
  • Use the worry tree to structurally determine whether the things that are upsetting you are issues you can solve or things outside of your control

If there are issues you can solve, you can continue building the branches down from the top of your worry tree, deciding whether you can act immediately or whether you have to schedule something that you can do later.

For example:

Linda is worried that she won't be able to get a ride to her next support group meeting. Her car just broke down, and it won't be fixed on time. However, it's 10:00 at night, and Linda has decided that she can take action to solve the problem, and that action is reaching out to a friend of hers to ask for a ride. Since it's 10:00 at night, she can't call them right now, so instead, she has to make a note to call them in the morning. 

This CBT worry tree thought exercise allows Linda to put the worry out of her mind until it's time to call her friend in the morning.

Let’s look at another example:

Linda just started a new job. She is worried that people won't like her. Using the same worry tree thought exercise, Linda has come to the realization that this is something outside of her control. She cannot control how other people feel about her; she can only control how she feels. Therefore, Linda allows herself a few minutes to dwell on her anxiety before shifting her focus toward other activities and relaxing with some yoga and meditation.

CBT Exercise #3: Problem Solving

Other thought record CBT exercises to improve mental health are an extension of the worry tree.

Problem-solving is an essential part of cognitive behavioral therapy, but before you can do that, you have to determine whether the problem you are trying to solve is a hypothetical worry, something that's outside of your concern that may not be grounded and evidence, or something that you can legitimately solve.

When you are ready, set aside 5 minutes per day to be as open-minded as possible about finding solutions to whatever your problem has to be. Once you have a list of ideas, write down:

  • Pros and cons for each problem solution
  • How likely something is to work
  • What you need to solve the problem

Overall, there are several thought record CBT exercises that you can use to improve mental health. Some of the exercises listed above can prove very helpful in managing symptoms of day-to-day anxiety or depression. But if you are struggling with something more substantial, like a legitimate mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy exercises can be individualized to your needs with the help of a professional therapist. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and addiction, Healing Pines is a men’s only drug rehab offering CBT in Colorado Springs. Contact us today to learn more.

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