How accurate is my worry? Testing it out with cognitive behavioural therapy

Photo: Jesse Therrien, stock.xchng

I did my first cognitive behavioural therapy experiment today.  It was much harder than I thought it would be, but I managed to stick with it.  The result has been good, though I am hoping to paddle to the shallow end and do some easier experiments next time.  Here’s my chronological account of what happened.  This blog is about things that helped and I think this process will help.

2 pm Friday afternoon

I have filled in my first  Behavioural Experiment Worksheet. I picked what I think will be an easy first experiment, the format of this posting is based on the worksheet:

Step 1 – Belief or rule to be tested


I want to buy my daughter a scooter for her birthday and have already decided with my husband that I’ll get one on eBay, or if not pay full price.  I had two attempts to purchase a scooter on Ebay and didn’t ‘win’ on either occasion. But I don’t agree with our original decision to get one full price, because we can’t afford it.

Rule to be tested:

I can’t make a decision without discussing it (to get reassurance), or doing very extensive research.

Right now the strength of this belief is 90 percent.

An alternative believe might be:

I can trust myself to do my best with the decisions I make about my daughter’s birthday present.

Step 2 – Planning

The experiment:

I will look online and decide what to buy for no more than 20 minutes.  I will then do what I have decided.

What do you predict will happen?:

If I don’t get reassurance my husband might be angry with me.  On reflection the next morning, I have another prediction that I will not make a good decision and that I will do less well for my daughter than other people do.

How sure are you that this will happen?

15 percent that my husband would be cross.   90 percent that I won’t make a good decision.

Safety behaviours that I need to drop during this experiment:

Asking for reassurance, from my husband and friends as well as excessive research.

I picked this ‘experiment’ because I thought it would be easy because I’ve already discussed it with my husband.  On reflection, is a difficult ‘experiment’ because I find it very tricky to make decisions about my daughters care; I so badly want to be a good mother.

5 am Saturday morning

Worrying for England about whether or not I made the right decision.  Very sad, cried all over the place because I feel so ashamed I can’t get it together about something so small.  Really tempted to ask for reassurance, really angry that the therapist suggested this stupid experiment without telling me how to sort out my feelings.  However, I feel a bit better once I’ve had a good cry, and my husband is taking my daughter swimming for the morning so I will have a chance to finish this bleeping ‘experiment’, though I’m not doing any more this week.  So there.

9 am Saturday morning

I am in the process of doing my CBT homework and I feel like a whole pile of expletives.  I really want to get well, so I’m going to force myself to continue until it is done – which will be by the end of Saturday morning.  My coping strategy for this is to try to remember that I am more than my feelings, or my anxiety.  So I will watch what happens as if an observer, then write it down here, so it’s not going over and over in my head. I am still worrying ‘What if I’ve made the wrong decision?’, ‘All my friends have more expensive toys for their kids, what if I’m being stingy?’ etc

Step 3 – Experiment

Now carry out the experiment and note what happened/what didn’t happen

Go to the local toy shop and buy a scooter spending up to our budget, possibly getting some other bits and pieces for her party.

Step 4 – Debrief

Re-rate beliefs in Step 1. Right now my strength of belief is: 0 percent!

What happened? Did it fit with your prediction?

I spent about 20 minutes deciding then did go the shop and buy what I wanted, slightly over budget, but within our grasp.  It was easy to choose because I knew what I wanted. My prediction that my husband might be cross was completely inaccurate.  I told him I’d bought the stuff and he said ‘great’. End of story.  However, knowing that he agreed with my decision is a kind of reassurance and it wasn’t until that moment that I felt totally relaxed about the decision I’d made.

My prediction that I wouldn’t be able to choose without help from someone also turned out to be inaccurate, though I had an uncomfortable night worrying about the decision. I then continued to worry until I’d actually completed the task. I was very distracted all morning, felt anxious and was chatting away in my mind trying to reassure myself – exhausting.

What can I conclude from this experiment?

I can trust myself to make decent decisions about my daughter’s care.  I would like to try less traumatic experiments in the future.  I found it difficult to know up front what will be an easy experiment and what will be difficult.  Rationally, the decision looks simple from the outside.  But feelings aren’t rational.