Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Psychotherapy to Reduce Worries, Fears, Obsessions, & Compulsions

Anxiety is a normal reaction to situations where we feel threatened or concerned. Anxiety can keep us safe or it can motivate us to work harder.
However, research suggests that one in ten Americans has a significant problem with anxiety, with levels of anxiety that are painful and disruptive. Panic attacks, extreme worry, obsessive-compulsive behavior, post-traumatic stress, and phobias are all common symptoms of anxiety disorders.

CBT Offers Lasting Relief

One of the most effective and lasting treatments for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of psychotherapy administered by a mental health professional that has been successfully used to treat a wide variety of problems, including depression, impulse control disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders. CBT helps individuals overcome their fears by changing their unhelpful thought patterns and teaching sufferers to manage their physical reactions to distress. In this way, CBT is able to relieve both the physical and emotional components of anxiety disorders.

The Cognitive Component

In cognitively-focused treatment, the therapist helps the patient to identify and examine the specific thoughts that are contributing to their feelings of anxiety. Once these thoughts are identified, the patient and the therapist work together to examine information that may disconfirm the beliefs the patient holds, and in doing so develop alternative thoughts that are more realistic and less anxiety-provoking. For example, for patients who worry about unlikely disasters, the patient and therapist might examine what the actual probability is of something catastrophic happening to either the patient or a family member. If a patient continuously worries about the health of family and friends, the therapist might ask the patient to list what, if any, evidence exists that would lead to the feared consequence of those people becoming seriously ill. The goal of these exercises is to allow the patient to carefully examine their anxious thoughts and come to the realization that the fears are exaggerated and unhelpful.

The Behavioral Component

One behavioral component of CBT focuses on exposure therapy. Exposure therapy repeatedly introduces the patient to feared situations. This is accomplished both by imagining these events as well as by physically entering uncomfortable situations. For instance, an individual with social anxiety disorder may give a performance in front of a small audience or they may have a conversation with someone they had not previously met. To further address the anxiety, the socially phobic individual may be shown audience evaluations of the conversation or performance and given video recordings of the experience to watch and discuss. After watching the recordings and reading the evaluations, patients realize that their fears of appearing awkward or speaking improperly are unsubstantiated. The exposure desensitizes the individual to their fears and allows the person to overcome psychological obstacles.

Relaxation techniques, such as breathing retraining, can help individuals cope with the stresses and physical reactions related to their anxiety. People with anxiety may hyperventilate when nervous, which can contribute to feelings of panic or even trigger a full-blown panic attack. The therapist teaches the patient how to breathe from the diaphragm to reduce the danger of hyperventilation. This tool helps the patient more confidently approach anxiety provoking situations. The therapist may also guide the patient in progressive muscle relaxation exercises to relieve feelings of physical tension and stress.

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