By Elaine Ryan
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders and has been shown to be the most effective “talking therapy.”
CBT is short for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Cognitive: Our thought processes and memory
Behavior: What we do and what we do not not do. What we say and what we do not say.
Therapy: An organized model to help you solve a problem.
Anxiety that cannot be avoided.
Some anxiety is part and parcel of life and is necessary and helpful to us. For example, if you were standing at the top of a steep flight of stairs and suddenly lost your footing, you will be familiar with the quick burst of adrenalin that you feel. Your heart beats faster, your breathing speeds up and you get a fright for those few seconds until you realize that you have found your footing and did not fall down the stairs. This burst of anxiety actually helped you to recover, by giving you the energy and alertness to correct your balance.
Anxiety that we create ourselves.
Although we do not mean to, much of the day to day anxiety we create ourselves. How? Our self talk. We talk to ourselves inside our head almost constantly. Thinking about things that we have done in the past and our worries about the future. We comment on practically everything that we do.
- I wish I didn’t do that
- I wish I didn’t say
- I will never get this right
- What if I can’t cope
- I must loose weight
- I have to stop eating junk food
- How come everyone can cope and I can’t?
We never stop to consider the impact all of this self talk has on our brain. That it will affect both how we feel and what we do.
These thoughts can come from having an anxious brain. Find out more.
CBT helps us to understand how we think about a particular situation will affect not only how we feel, but also what we do. This simply means that it is not a person, situation or thing that makes us feel anxiety, but how we think about it, and what we do.
For example, say you were out shopping and for the first time ever, you felt symptoms of anxiety or maybe even had a panic attack. It is understandable that this experience will make you feel very frightened. If you were able to carry on and not think about it again, chances are, you will be fine. However, for most of us, this frightening experience will get played over and over again in our mind – by our thought processes. We may try hard to figure out exactly what caused us to feel the things we felt. We may spend a lot of our time, worrying if it will happen again – in doing this, we are creating what is called anticipatory anxiety. These thought processes
- worrying if it will happen again
- Worrying about the sensations in our body, can be seen in our behavior – we might visit the doctor more often than normal for reassurance – only to find that hearing it is just anxiety does not reassure all the thoughts we are having in our head
The thought processes themselves create more anxiety in our body and a vicious cycle begins.
Feeling symptoms of anxiety in our body and worrying in our head can lead to behaviors that may be helpful in the short term, but cause us problems in the long term. For example, if you feel your heart racing and experience a tightness in your chest and notice that you are hot and sweaty, you might sit down, or clutch something for support. These are called safety behaviors.
You might even start to attach the feelings of anxiety to the place where it first happening – a particular shop for example and decide it is safer to avoid that shop altogether as it (the shop) may make you feel anxious.
How will CBT help with Anxiety?
It will teach you that it is not the shop ( or any other person, place or thing) that is making you feel anxious. Our brain attaches emotions to memories which needs to be broken down. You may have anxious memories attached to the shop that are not helpful to you and which may be responsible for restricting which shops you feel safe in.
It will help you to see that you may misinterpret symptoms of anxiety, for example
Say, out of the blue, you felt dizzy, confused and had muscular tension
- You might think “There is something seriously wrong with me”
- You might feel more anxiety
- And this affects your behavior. You might sit down or leave what you are doing when you feel the symptoms
- Later when the experience has passed, you go over in again in your head, creating more anxious thoughts and feelings.
It would be easier if you thought
- This is anxiety and will pass, it always does
- You felt uncomfortable but were able to manage
- You carried on with whatever you were doing.
CBT helps you by
Cognitive: You will learn to replace unhelpful thought processes with more helpful ones. You will also be taught about the deeply held beliefs you have that may be underlying your anxiety.
Behavioral: You will learn how to calm your body and brain. You will also be taught about your own safety behaviors and avoidance and understand how these may actually be maintaining your anxiety.
This is covered in more depth in the program in addition to understanding exactly what is going on in your brain to produce anxiety. It is our brain that controls everything, from you being able to read this page, to being able to support you in your chair, to the thoughts you may be having in your head right now. Neuroscience is able to show us what happens in our brain when we have anxious thoughts and symptoms, which helps us to understand exactly how to reduce anxiety.
What is expected of me?
CBT is psycho -educational which simply means you will be taught all about anxiety how your thoughts and feelings and behaviors are all linked together.
You will be assigned activities to complete. CBT is not like traditional counseling where you just talk. You will come to understand how anxiety develops and will be shown exactly how to reduce your anxiety. It is therefore, very important that you complete the activities as you are teaching yourself and your brain to respond differently.
Will we focus on my childhood? CBT focuses on what is happening in your life right now. That does not mean that it ignores the past. We are all made up of our past experiences, our beliefs that we have acquired throughout our life and CBT understands this. However, in CBT for anxiety, you will not be looking at your early childhood years to reduce anxiety. The anxiety that you experience is happening now. We work with how it is happening in your life right now.