Anxiety is an absolutely crippling affliction. It has very complicated origins, and it has lots of different symptoms, manifestations, and outlets. But what if I told you that fighting anxiety can be incredibly simple?
Well, it can be.
The simple act of talking to someone can make an incredible difference to how you feel. You can take that a step further, however, by talking to someone in a way that actively seeks to counter feelings of anxiety is even more effective.
Having someone teach you how to properly understand and work against anxiety is even more effective.
Thankfully, there are lots of people out there who can help you do this. They are practitioners of a therapy technique called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short.
What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a therapeutic intervention in which people are taught to change their thought processes and their behaviours (hence cognitive behavioural) in order to bring about improvements in emotional wellbeing, mental health, and overall life quality.
Typically, this means talking to a qualified therapist who helps you understand your thoughts better, to recognize where they come from, and to then change them.
This is done through basic repetition; they are posed situations and taught to repeatedly deconstruct their anxiety, examine its rationality, and to think what a more appropriate response might be.
All of this is typically done in group sessions, where only people suffering with social anxiety are able to attend.
Each particular disorder or problem requires its own unique approach, but the basic premise of CBT is the same; you can train yourself to think about situations or emotions differently, and to act differently when faced with those feelings.
How Effective Is CBT?
CBT is without question one of the most effective treatments for anxiety of all kinds. According to a recent article by Natural Nootropic, it is probably the first thing you should try if you are starting to feel severely anxious.
Multiple studies have shown that different forms of CBT work extremely well across multiple patient groups and demographics.
This study looked at multiple different clinical trials on different forms of CBT and anxiety. The authors found that both exposure and cognitive therapy interventions (both forms of CBT) were effective in treating anxiety. The authors also noted that “dismantling studies are needed to determine which specific treatment components lead to beneficial outcomes and which patients are most likely to benefit from these treatment components”.
This literature review looked at 56 studies on CBT as a treatment for anxiety. The researchers here concluded: “the quantitative literature review of randomized placebo-controlled trials and of trials in naturalistic treatment settings provides strong support for both the efficacy and effectiveness of CBT as an acute intervention for adult anxiety disorders.”
There are hundreds of robust clinical trials out there showing that CBT works.
How To Use CBT Yourself – 3 Most Effective Practices You Can Use Today
CBT is now a standard treatment protocol for anxiety disorders around the world.
It can be devastatingly effective and offers a much less intrusive and certainly much more lasting alternative to anti-anxiety drugs!
But for many people, visiting a therapist is not an attractive proposition.
You may not think your problem is serious enough to warrant professional help. You might not want to even admit that you have a serious problem with anxiety. Or you might just be one of those people who never visits the doctor.
While professional help is always ideal, it is possible to try some versions of CBT by yourself.
Here are some of the best ways to try to counter anxiety with CBT. These techniques can all be employed TODAY to help you feel less anxious.
- Write Down Your Concerns
Putting your concerns on pen and paper can have an immediate calming effect because, chances are, you’ll struggle to identify them.
People with generalized anxiety are often in a constant state of panic, but they can rarely put their finger on what it is that they’re panicking about: all of their problems overlap and morph into one another. When you offer a solution to one problem, it simply melds into a different problem.
But forcing yourself to write down what you’re worrying about will either make you properly understand the issue or make you realize that there really isn’t an issue at all.
Speech is evasive and difficult to follow; writing requires you to formulate your thoughts clearly and concisely. That’s why making a list of your concerns can often make some of them disappear entirely.
- Act Natural
Our emotions and our outward behaviour exist as a constant feedback loop. If we feel excited, we act excited, and if we act excited, we can make ourselves feel excited.
The same goes for anxiety; pacing, biting your nails, and sitting with your head in your hands are outward, behavioural signs of anxiety. But they can also cause feelings of anxiety.
Break the negative feedback loop and send calming signals to your brain by acting relaxed: sit with an open, relaxed posture, bring your shoulders back, smile, and breathe deeply. This will significantly reduce your immediate feelings of anxiety.
This is no doubt why certain forms of yogic breathing have been shown to reduce chronic stress levels; it immediately calms the stress response system and tells the brain that there is nothing to worry about.
- Question Yourself
This is CBT at its most fundamental, and in my opinion, at its most effective.
The ‘cognitive’ side of CBT is all about breaking down your unhelpful thoughts to show that they aren’t at all warranted.
In the case of something like social anxiety, this would typically involve talking through your feelings and worries. The key role usually played by the counsellor or therapist is that of questioner:
What is it that you’re worried about exactly?
Why are you convinced you’ll do something embarrassing?
What is the worst consequence of doing this embarrassing thing?
Do you think you’d get over it?
How would you feel about someone who did the same thing? Is it really that bad?
Do you think it’s likely that everyone will be watching you at this party?
How likely is it that you’ll actually do this thing, and would anyone really care?
It’s always ideal to have a professional play this role, but you can just as easily question your own assumptions in the same way.
This example is tailored to social anxiety, but the same method of questioning applies to all forms of anxiety.
Whenever you start to feel the stirrings of anxiety, try to stop yourself and focus on what it is that you’re worried about. Ask yourself whether you really need to be worried about it at all, and how worried you need to be.
Try to do this in a calm manner, and if you have them to hand, use a pen and paper. Combining all three methods above will be a lot more powerful than trying any one of them alone!