My mother has Alzheimer’s and I try to visit her every day. I often feel stressed after a visit and I felt this today when I returned from seeing her, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try a couple of things. I recognise that I feel anxious and worried after visiting and that a lot of the time I cope with this by eating unhealthy food, and lots of it at that. Crisps, chocolate, gummy sweets, pizza, curries, even the odd McDonald’s, and sometimes all of the above in the same sitting! As I am trying to do something different, I thought I would set up a behaviour experiment, and also complete a five factor model to measure how I am feeling before conducting the experiment.
Five Factor Model
As you can see from the above model, I have separated my experience into the five factors of:
- The situation
- My thoughts
- My feelings
- How I am behaving
- My physical sensations
I have also highlighted the ‘hot’ thought, “I FEEL OVERWHELMED, I DON’T THINK I CAN COPE”, as well as highlighting the strongest emotion, “ANXIOUS 9/10”.
In setting up my behaviour experiment, what I am hoping to achieve is a reduction in the strength of feeling, as well as more balanced, rational thoughts.
I also want to pay attention the physiological aspects of anxiety, as my emotions and thoughts are being influenced by over-production of the hormone cortisol, meaning any experiment I want to conduct may prove more beneficial if I factor in ways to alleviate the effects cortisol is having on me when my anxiety peaks. Take a look at my five factor model above, my heart is racing, I am feeling warmer, my stomach is churning, the hormone cortisol is probably having an impact on me physiologically, which in turn is affecting my ability to think rationally and feel emotionally more balanced. Some people get up and walk or feel the need to escape anxiety provoking situations, this physical exercise can alleviate some of the effects of breathing faster by allowing the body to balance the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide being utilised, which in turn can counteract the effects of the influx of cortisol and help a person return to a more neutral state. When I am designing my experiment, I am going keep this in mind.
I completed my Behaviour Experiment Worksheet which you can download free from Get Self Help (http://www.get.gg/docs/BehaviouralExperimentWorksheet.pdf )
This is split into four parts:
- Step 1. The belief or rule to be tested
- Step 2. Planning the experiment
- Step 3. Carrying out the experiment
- Step 4. Evaluating the results
Step 1. As you can see from my completed worksheet, I wanted to tackle my ‘hot thought’ or belief that I am struggling and am unable to cope. I rated the strength of belief at 60% because I don’t fully subscribe to the belief, but I accept that in the moment when I am feeling anxious the thought or belief seems very real to me. I decided that I also believe that if I make changes, things could be different for me, as the opposite is true that if I don’t make changes, the chances are I will continue to experience similar things.
Step 2. I decided to design a very simple experiment, when I feel the physical effects of anxiety (heart racing, warm, nervous stomach) I will move around more instead of just sitting or lying and feeling the effects. This should also distract me and buy time for me to think more rationally. I rated my belief that if I did these things, I would feel better at 60% as I am pretty sure, but need convincing!
Step 3. I carried out the experiment and noted what happened.
Step 4. Now that I have completed the experiment my belief that I am unable to cope is probably only around 30%, in other words, I am pretty sure I can cope. As you can see from the completed worksheet, I did a headstand, and then some squats, I ended up laughing at myself and felt better immediately. My belief that the experiment would work was originally 60%, and now that I have completed the experiment my belief that the experiment works has risen to 70%. What I can take away from this one off experiment is that what I did today worked, and I think that if I feel anxious in future, if I move about and do something physical, or funny, I may end up feeling less anxious. I will only know if I continue to try new things in future.