Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques for Anxiety

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Anxiety is often caused by irrational cognitions or thoughts, so it makes sense that cognitive-behavioral therapy, or replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, would help anxiety. Learn about specific techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy that can help cure anxiety in this lesson.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is centered on the belief that the mind and body are deeply connected. A chronic worry in the mind can create physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and sweating, for example.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on replacing a person's negative thoughts with positive ones; the goal being that a more positive mindset will positively affect that person's emotions and behavior.

CBT has been proven to treat a number of psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias. In this lesson, though, we're going to be focusing on CBT techniques for anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

Molly is a frequent worrier. She worries about things like her heath, financial troubles, her children, her safety and her job; she worries when there really is no good reason to worry. Molly has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which is a tendency to worry about many things in life for unwarranted reasons.

Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, or worry about something in the future or something that may happen. Anxiety, or nervousness, often manifests in physical symptoms such as sweating, a fast heart rate, dizziness, shortness of breath and shaking. If anxiety is chronic, like it is in generalized anxiety disorder, can lead to medical conditions such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and asthma.

Image of symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety is a problem because:

  • Feeling worried or stressed is not pleasant way to live.
  • Anxiety or fear of something specific can cause someone to avoid that something all together (example: A woman who gets anxious in social situations may avoid going to parties or events; isolation can lead to depression.)
  • Physical conditions and illnesses that can be caused or exacerbated by chronic anxiety (mentioned in the earlier paragraph).

Due to the problems associated with anxiety, many individuals who suffer from anxiety want to be rid of it. It's not possible to be rid of anxiety--it's a human response and everyone experiences it. But to those with chronic anxiety, the ability to deal with their anxiety is malfunctioning. So it's no surprise that they want to be able to live their lives with the tools that allow them to deal with the worry and uncertainty that all people experience. CBT is a treatment technique that is often used to treat individuals with anxiety, giving them these tools.

CBT Techniques for Anxiety

Much of anxiety is caused by a distorted or inaccurate perception of the way that things are and what will happen in the future. In Molly's case, she had a distorted view of her health, always predicting that something with her health would go horribly wrong even when her doctor visit and blood tests checked out just fine.

Because anxiety is created by this distorted perception, CBT helps with exchanging this faulty thought with a more realistic one. It can also help someone build confidence, changing negative thoughts of the self and the self's abilities to positive and uplifting ones.

Changing negative thoughts of the self and ones own abilities to more positive ones can be a major change agent in emotions and behavior.
Image of positive self talk

Here are some common CBT techniques used to treat anxiety:

Cognitive Restructuring

Molly keeps a journal over the course of the week to log her negative thoughts. One of her recurring thoughts in that week was 'I'm going to have a heart attack.' When she visits her therapist, he asks her why she thought that. She responded that it's because her heart often races. Molly's therapist explains that her heart races due to worry, not because she's going to have a heart attack. Molly then made a concerted effort to change any future thoughts of, 'I'm going to have a heart attack,' to 'I'm just anxious, my heart is perfectly fine.'

Cognitive restructuring is changing any negative thoughts or perceptions to more positive ones. It entails actually identifying the negative thoughts, questioning the validity of those negative thoughts, and changing them to more positive and accurate thoughts.

Behavioral Experiments

Molly continues to keep her journal, but this time she changes negative thoughts to more positive ones and monitors whether changing her thoughts from negative to positive lessens her feelings of anxiety. Molly is conducting behavioral experiments on herself, which is simply a method that uses trial and error in an effort to get at the root causes of negative thought patterns.

Thought Records

For every negative perception or thought in her journal, Molly is instructed to gather evidence that supports that negative thought. Molly records the thought, 'I'm not going to have enough money to pay my bills' but then gathers evidence for and against this thought. She realizes that there is a lot more evidence against this thought, such as the fact that she has a stable full-time job where she receives a regular paycheck. Thought records help sufferers of anxiety challenge their negative thoughts with actual evidence.

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