Coffee Spills

What I hear and see and think about at the coffee shops I patronize.
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Saturday, March 04, 2006

There are good tips in this workbook

The man at the next table at Panera's had a large workbook with the familiar yellow $1.00 sticker from Half-Price Books. "10 days to self-esteem" by David D. Burns. I asked him about it, and he said it was the worst title for a book he'd ever read, but that the content was actually pretty good. He had seen an item about the author in the NYT, and dug around among his old books and found it. Burns' method involves writing down your negative thoughts (and it has nothing to do with 10 days unless those are days you get by adding up minutes).

A consumer mental health site states:

To rid yourself of relentless self-criticism and distorted thoughts, Burns suggests spending 15 minutes every day capturing your thought process on paper. Looking at your thoughts on paper will allow you to search the list above to see what's distorted or "wrong" about them; next, take the time to come up with a fair and rational rebuttal. Whether you're depressed or just a bit down, the exercise may help you feel better within a couple of weeks. Here's his approach:

Start by briefly describing an event that bothered you, perhaps a comment by your spouse or something that went wrong at work. Write down the emotions you felt. Were you mostly sad, mostly angry, a little of both? Record the thoughts that led to those emotions (such as, "My marriage is in deep trouble" or "I'm doing a lousy job"). It's important to write down the thoughts that led to the emotions rather than the emotions themselves, because if you write, "I feel awful," well, that's probably true. Instead, write down the thoughts that are causing you to feel awful, then decide which, if any, of the 10 categories above your thoughts fall into (Overgeneralization? Jumping to conclusions?).

Once you identify the fallacies behind your negative thinking, you're ready to move forward. Look again at your thoughts and try to think of a more rational, optimistic response. For instance, "My marriage is in deep trouble" may give way to "My wife wasn't in a good mood today." You could counter "I'm doing a lousy job" with "I wasn't at my best today, but everyone makes mistakes" or "I still have some room to improve."

You may find that the simple act of writing down your problems gives you some newfound power and control. Things just don't seem so overwhelming on paper. And if the exercise helps break the stream of negative thoughts and mental illusions, you'll have more protection against depression. Now that's a pleasant thought."
Chris Woolston, MD