Jun 2, 2020 Stress Management Using Cognitive Therapy

How can you manage stress using cognitive therapy? Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Thomas Moore, administrative director of clinical and business services, RWJBarnabas One Source Employee Assistance Program (EAP), is here to walk us through this technique, and show us how becoming more aware of our thoughts, perceptions and beliefs, we can better manage our stress.

If you’re an RWJBarnabas Health employee, know that our EAP is here for you and your family. For details about services, including confidential counseling, please visit the EAP section on The Bridge.


Thomas Moore here, and welcome to season two of The Calm Collection. Today we’re going to talk about managing our stress using cognitive therapy. So, what is cognitive therapy?

We go through life [holds up his left hand up, his palm his next to his face] – this is an event right here [points to his left hand that is still holding up]. Having an events cause feelings [holds up his right hand in the same position as his left]. Events cause feelings. That is how we perceive life to be. Cognitive therapists say that is a mistake. That is not correct.

Events occur, and we have thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs about that event, and those thoughts, perceptions and beliefs about events is the thing that causes us to have feelings. They say, if we’re more aware of our thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs and we take a more rational stance towards life, we can do a better job of managing our stress, our anger, our anxiety. Okay, that sounds good. Let’s choose an event.

You’re lined up in the E-Z Pass line, trying to get to work. Maybe you’re going to be a little bit late, but everything falls into place – you should be fine. And you wait in line with all the other people who should come and go in front of you and cut you off, but Mr. Fancy Pants in his fancy car, his fancy suit from New York, where I’m from.

Now that event causes people to say all kinds of things in the privacy of their car and to shake your fists in anger. Why are you angry? Because it’s not fair. And when unfairness happens in our lives, we get very angry.

Okay. You’re gonna search yourself today. You get out of your car in your anger with Mr. Fancy Pants. You’re gonna communicate to him that he is not more important than other people, and what he’s doing is unfair, and the people behind you, lined up – this is happening – they get out of their cars and they all rush to Mr. Fancy Pants because you’re all going to communicate this to him – and as you go to hit him in your anger, he says, “My daughter got hit in the head with a softball bat at practice, I’m rushing to get to the hospital.”

Just like that, different perception, different belief, same event. And our emotions go from anger to compassion, or guilt, because we thought it was an unfair event, but it is fair for him to rush to see his daughter, and we do not always perceive events accurately. And even when we do, and something is unfair, is the world a fair place? We know the world is not a fair place. We may not like it, but we know it to be true, and insisting that the world always be a fair place and getting angry about it, cognitive therapists would say is not helpful and rational. Okay, what is rational?

If it’s an unfair world, unfairness will happen to us, I guess on a regular basis. New philosophy: When unfairness happens to you, and you find yourself to be angry, do this: how can I take the best care of myself possible in an unfair world? It’s going to happen. How am I going to take the best care of myself possible – myself, my family, my colleagues, people that I care about? And if we switch to that philosophy, we find ourselves to be less anxious, we find ourselves to be better problem solvers. Life is better. So, try this, tell me how it works out. Good luck.