Anxiety disorders come in different forms. It may show up as panic attacks, persistent worries, obsessive thoughts, or crippling phobias. If you have any of these conditions, living life can be quite hard.
Thankfully, there is much hope for you to overcome your anxiety. Therapy and medication are two popular choices. While medication is good for relieving symptoms of anxiety disorders, they only go after the symptoms. Therapy, on the other hand, deals with the root cause of your anxiety. Because of that, therapy is often the better choice. It is more holistic, and you don’t have to depend on it for life, unlike some medications.
Therapy does not just calm down overactive nerves. It equips you with the tools you need to overcome anxiety. And one of the most effective methods is called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
CBT is a therapy that’s widely used for many anxiety disorders. Much research backs up its effectiveness in treating phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and other related conditions.
CBT has two major components, which aim to address negative patterns of thought and behavior. These are:
- Cognitive therapy, which looks at how negative thoughts lead to anxiety.
- Behavioral therapy, which examines how you react to situations that trigger your anxiety.
In other words, CBT explores the relationships between your thoughts and behaviors, as well as how they influence the symptoms of anxiety.
One basic principle of CBT is that your thoughts directly affect your feelings. It’s not the things happening around you that drive your emotions. Instead, it’s how you perceive those situations that dictate how you feel.
For example, let’s say you have a case of social anxiety. With that, you fear being in large crowds, whether or not you know the people there. One day after work, your friend invites you to a party over at his house. Everyone in your department is going.
Depending on how you think of the situation, your emotions would change. Here are some possibilities:
- If you think that the party will be a lot of fun, you will feel happy, excited, and looking forward to going there.
- If you think that you don’t know what to say to the people in the party, and that you’ll just embarrass yourself, you will feel really nervous.
- If you think that you are not a fan of parties, and that you’d rather stay home, you would feel neither happy nor sad. Parties just aren’t your thing, so your decision not to go is borne out of apathy.
If you have social anxiety, your brain would automatically come up with thought. You may want to go, but the crippling fear of interacting with others may trigger overwhelming anxiety when you’re already at the party.
But as you can see, is not the only way to think about the situation. Some people feel extremely excited because thought is what’s running through their minds. Others, though, feel apathetic about the party. These kinds of people don’t like going to parties, so they don’t care much about it. They have no feelings of intense happiness, excitement, sadness, or nervousness.
Such is one of the goals of cognitive behavioral therapy. It teaches you that how you think about things isn’t the only way to think about them. There are other ways of thinking about situations that trigger your anxiety. CBT aims to help you find the correct patterns of thinking. In turn, healthy thoughts will lead to positive emotions.
How does cognitive behavioral therapy help me change my thoughts?
CBT has this method called cognitive restructuring, also known as thought challenging. As the name suggests, you will challenge those negative thought patterns that trigger anxiety. In place of those thoughts will be positive, realistic ones.
There are three steps to the thought challenging process:
- First, you must identify your negative thoughts. Doing this on your own can be hard, so your therapist will help you with this step. One question you can ask is, “What was I thinking when I started feeling anxious?”
- Next, you need to challenge the negative thoughts. Here, your therapist will teach you ways to evaluate those anxiety-triggering thoughts. You could be asked if there is any evidence to back up those thoughts. Also, you could be asked to think about how realistic those frightful thoughts are or how likely they are to happen to you in real life. You could also be taught to weigh the pros and cons of avoiding the thing you’re anxious about.
- Finally, you will replace those negative thoughts with realistic ones. At this point, you will have realized that your negative thoughts are irrational, unhelpful, and have almost no basis in reality. With that, you can instead fill your mind with thoughts that are realistic, positive, and most importantly, calming. Your therapist will also help you come up with these uplifting thoughts.
There are other techniques that your therapist will help you practice as well. Some of them are:
- Recognizing what you feel in your body when anxiety strikes
- Learning ways to relax, which counters panic and anxiety
- Facing your fears head-on
The process is not as easy as it looks, though. CBT involves unlearning an old habit and developing a new one, which takes time and effort.
It will take several sessions of CBT, and several weeks, before you master the skills you need to combat anxiety by yourself. But the good news is CBT is designed to be a short-term therapy. It delivers results as quickly as after 8 to 10 sessions, with each session lasting an hour at most.
Also, CBT is worth the effort. After the therapy, you will have everything you need to fight off anxiety even before it hits you. Your old ways of thinking would be gone, replaced with new, healthy thought patterns. In turn, you would experience anxiety less and less.