Those who have anxiety can sometimes feel as if they are alone with their struggles, going through a unique situation that no one has the answer to, every day another hurdle to jump over. However, anxiety disorders are very common, with about 18% of the population suffering from its effects (Facts & statistics, n.d.). This is why a great variety of treatments have been designed and tested out to combat the major symptoms (Facts & statistics, n.d.). The goal of these treatments isn’t to completely erase any symptoms of anxiety, rather to improve the overall quality of life; once an individual learns how to manage them, their symptoms will interfere less in their life. A wide variety of treatments have been suggested, from natural ones such as exercise or tea, to more medical ones, such as exposure therapy. However, the most used treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), recommended by therapists and medical professionals alike (Hunley, 2019).
There are different ways to approach CBT, varying depending on which technique the therapist or medical professional prefers, but almost all of them have two parts: cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive refers to the mind and behavior refers to behaviors. Put into the context of anxiety disorders, CBT evaluates how a person’s thoughts and behaviors heighten their anxiety levels, as opposed to the event or situation itself (Treating anxiety, 2016). Identifying those key aspects will help to alter those reactions to have a more positive outlook on the situation, attempting to lessen the stress and negative connotations associated with that moment.
CBT identifies what situations or triggers cause the feeling of anxiety in the first place, with some people experiencing general feelings of avoidance to stressful situations while others may have specific phobias (Treating anxiety, 2016). The cognitive aspect becomes significant when determining how your mind reacts to that trigger, evaluating the overall thoughts, feelings, and emotions associated with it (Smith et al., 2020). In this approach, an individual’s thoughts, not their external environment, affect their feelings and actions.
You can take a common anxiety-inducing event, such as a public presentation, as a model of how CBT works. Under normal circumstances, an individual might feel worried or scared, fretting over the fact that they will do bad and be embarrassed in front of a large audience (Treating anxiety, 2016). These thoughts themselves cause the person to put off preparing the presentation or practicing for it, ultimately actualizing those fears due to their own negative thoughts. Someone practicing CBT, however, will make a conscious effort to remain positive, and if unable to do that, think realistically. Rather than wasting time worrying, they’ll attempt to do what they can and prepare themselves for the presentation, doing their part to alleviate worries of failure. Just the thought that the individual is competent and well-prepared for the presentation will help to stave off the worst of anxiety’s side effects. Of course, CBT won’t alleviate all of its effects, but it can minimize them enough that the individual is able to live their life without becoming stressed at every turn.
The behavioral aspect of CBT operates in the same frame of reference, addressing an individual’s behavior and actions when they’re faced with their anxiety-inducing triggers (Smith et al., 2020). Instead of the thoughts, it’s the behaviors themselves that are examined and then worked through, looking into why a certain reaction occurred and how that can be slowly changed for a reaction that either better deals with the situation or minimal to no reaction at all. This is where CBT begins to overlap with exposure therapy, in which you consistently expose yourself to your fears and triggers (Treating anxiety, 2016). Once nothing happens, or something does happen but to a lesser extent than you expected, the anxiety and fear surrounding the scenario slowly begin to decrease. However, it’s impossible to create methods in which you can address every source of anxiety. The behavioral portion of CBT will most likely support the cognitive portion, which will make up the bulk of the work regarding the slow management of anxiety disorders.
It’s important to note that while in theory, thinking positive thoughts instead of negative ones might sound easy, reality is much different. It takes conscious effort and consistent work to be effective and the result might take a long time to show. These small steps may not appear to be much, but they can in fact help with managing anxiety. They aid in confronting the issue head first rather than avoiding it, which is a key symptom of anxiety (Treating anxiety, 2016). This is important because in the long term, consistent avoidance will worsen an individual’s overall sense of anxiety. When the mind looks at a situation, it decides that avoidance is better than handling it in a calm, rational manner. This brings short term relief to the person, potentially causing more stress than before (Treating anxiety, 2016). The more a situation is avoided and the more frequently it is done, the amount of anxiety associated with the situation will subsequently increase. CBT might be difficult in the moment, requiring the individual to manage their triggers and actively think about handling the situation. However, it can improve overall health, serving to lessen the stress from anxiety in the future.
Being proactive and taking small and consistent steps is the key to managing anxiety with CBT in mind. While therapy is relatively short-term, with individuals reporting improvement within eight to ten therapy sessions, the practices themselves must be done daily and effort must be expended to combat negative thoughts or behaviors (Smith et al., 2020). Even if the time or resources are not available to see a therapist or medical professional to discuss CBT, practicing the basic ideology might be a good step towards progress. Whether it be a journal for your thoughts and feelings, a step-by-step plan for how to tackle a problem, or simply an activity to help you destress at difficult times, it’s important to have methods to manage your symptoms, turning the moment from a potential source of worry to a situation you have at least some control over. With time and some effort, your levels of anxiety will decrease, and you will find yourself handling anything thrown your way.
Facts & statistics: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
Hunley, S. (2019, September 12). Cbt for anxiety – cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-cognitive-behavioral- therapy-cbt
Smith, M., Segal, R., & Segal, J. (2020, September). Therapy for anxiety disorders. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/therapy-for-anxiety- disorders.htm
Treating anxiety with cbt (guide). (2016, April 18). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-guide/cbt-for-anxiety