Anxiety disorders can leave you feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and paranoid. Obsessive, anxious thoughts can keep you up a night and unrelenting worry can disturb your day. Luckily, you don’t have to continue to live with debilitating anxiety and fear. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you overcome anxiety. Unlike anxiety medication, which merely treats the symptoms of anxiety, CBT can actually help you:
- Uncover the underlying causes of your worries and fear
- Learn how to relax in the midst of challenging situations
- Look at situations in new, less frightening ways
- Develop effective coping and problem-solving skills
In fact, out of the many different types of therapies used to treat anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective, leading approaches.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy. But instead of focusing on the past as most therapy sessions do, CBT focuses on the present, teaching you how to respond to stressors in a way that can ease your distress. In the CBT approach, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected. This means that how you think and feel influences what you do. At the same time, this also means that changing the way you think can also change the way you feel, and ultimately, how you behave.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT works by helping you make sense of overwhelming problems. Remember, thinking productively about a challenging situation can help you behave more appropriately. CBT helps you approach difficult experiences in a healthy way by teaching you how to break challenges down into small parts.
In CBT, problems are typically broken down into 5 main aspects:
- Physical feelings
As you focus on the facts regarding a particular situation, you can begin to list, analyze and evaluate your thoughts. Those thoughts are like a pair of glasses. They determine how you feel emotionally and how your body responds physically (in the case of anxiety, often with rapid breathing, quickened heartbeat, headache, or chest pains.). Those emotions and physical responses determine your behavior, or what you do next.
By breaking distressing situations down like this, CBT can teach you how to solve problems and deal with distressing situations in a constructive way, making you less vulnerable to emotional overwhelm and anxiety.
How Does CBT Help Anxiety?
Anxiety is almost always triggered by unhelpful or negative thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy specifically helps anxiety by teaching you to combat those types of thoughts. This process involves 2 main components:
- Cognitive therapy, which can teach you how to examine negative thoughts that trigger anxiety
- Behavioral therapy, which focuses on how you react to situations that trigger anxiety
Essentially, CBT helps anxious people realize that anxiety doesn’t occur as a result of distressing situations and experiences, but rather their perception of those situations. Here are 3 specific ways CBT helps anxious people change their perception of challenging circumstances.
1. CBT Teaches How To Control and Change Anxious Thoughts
When your mind is full of anxious thoughts, you might feel stressed and overwhelmed. These feelings can cause you to overreact or avoid various situations and people. Luckily, CBT can teach you how to manage, combat, and change anxious thoughts. The process includes the following 3 steps:
- Identifying the negative thought. Usually, people with anxiety disorders perceive situations as more dangerous than they actually are. Identifying thoughts that trigger anxiety is the first step in learning to control and change those thoughts. You might have difficulty identifying these thoughts at first, but asking yourself what you were thinking when you started feeling anxious can help. Your therapist can also help you with this step.
- Challenging the negative thought. After you’ve identified the thought, you need to challenge the belief. This involves questioning the evidence for your thinking and evaluating the reality of your negative prediction. Your therapist might also ask you to weigh the pros and cons of your thinking. Essentially, this process teaches you how to separate your thoughts and feelings from reality. You learn that thoughts and feelings aren’t fact, no matter how real they may seem.
- Replacing the negative thought with a realistic, helpful thought. This step is about coming up with a realistic thought that can help calm you when you’re facing a situation that typically triggers anxiety. Your therapist can help you do this at first, but eventually, you’ll learn to replace negative thoughts on your own.
2. CBT Can Help Maintain A Sense of Control and Confidence
Anxiety is an intense feeling of discomfort that typically drives people to avoid whatever triggers their fear. This means that anxiety is often defined by avoidance. Luckily, CBT can help you maintain a sense of control and confidence when you’re dealing with difficult situations.
Exposure therapy, a component of CBT, gradually exposes you to the situations and objects you fear. At first, your therapist might ask you to make a list of things that give you anxiety. Once you’ve done that, your therapist may use pictures, videos, and sounds to help slowly expose you to that object or situation. Repeated exposure can help you begin to feel an increased sense of control over the situation. As you feel more in control of the situation, your anxiety should start to diminish. In time, you can begin to use exposure therapy for more difficult situations. Eventually, exposure therapy can help you tackle all the situations you wish to conquer.
3. CBT Teaches Coping Skills That Promote Healthy Reactivity
In addition to teaching you how to identify, combat, and change negative thinking, CBT can also help you learn how to react to situations in a healthy way. CBT does this by teaching you a number of coping skills that help you relax before you react. Some of the most common CBT coping skills include:
- Deep breathing. This simple but effective technique shows you how simply stopping to breathe deeply before reacting can be the difference between a rational and an anxiety-based response.
- Behavioral activation. When you’re anxious, you’re probably less likely to engage in activities you enjoy. Behavioral activation encourages you to participate in activities and experiences that can improve your mood, which can diminish anxiety.
- Progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body. As you tense and relax your muscles simultaneously, you give yourself time to calm down before reacting, making you less hyperactive and impulsive.
Contact Us To Learn More About Holistic Mental Health Treatment
Untreated anxiety can significantly impact your wellbeing. But here at StoneRidge Centers, we’re proud to offer expert brain science and evidence-based therapies that can effectively treat anxiety disorders.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you obtain and maintain optimal mental health. Contact us today if you’re ready to deal with anxiety in a healthy, constructive, and productive way.
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