It’s a catch-22. You’re living with anxiety, and it’s disrupting your plans, sleep, and quality of life. You know that counseling for anxiety is an option, but there’s one problem: the idea of CBT therapy stirs up a lot of anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been demonstrated to help with a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety. But to experience the benefits of therapy, you have to get past the hesitation about starting the process. Many people are nervous about trying therapy, but this doesn’t have to be a barrier to getting the care you need.
One of the drivers of anxiety is not knowing what might happen. While it’s impossible to outline exactly where your therapy journey will take you, we can dispel some of the mystery around the process. Here’s a look into how CBT helps people with anxiety and what this approach may include.
How does CBT Therapy address anxiety?
As an article in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience reports, (CBT) has been shown to be “both efficacious and effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders.” It does this by addressing the habitual ways people think and act, helping them learn more effective choices.
One of the hallmarks of anxiety is cognitive distortions. These are the habitual thoughts that ramp up anxious feelings and seem impervious to logic. For example, you make a mistake at work, then spend the rest of the day playing it over in your mind and thinking you’re going to be fired. This is cognitive distortion–a negative pattern of thinking that feeds anxiety.
This is what CBT is designed to deal with. The theory behind this approach is that our thoughts and behaviours impact how we feel. Although trying to change our feelings directly is a frustrating task, therapists who use CBT find that focusing on the habitual ways we think and behave can, in turn, affect our emotions.
Dealing with cognitive distortions
Before you can make helpful changes to your thoughts, you have to figure out what cognitive distortions you’re dealing with. Your therapist will work with you to identify these thoughts. One type of cognitive distortion is called overgeneralization. In the previous example of making a mistake at work, overgeneralization might look like thoughts such as, “I’m so bad at my job–I don’t do anything right. I’m a failure at everything I do.”
When you look at these thoughts, it may seem obvious that they aren’t true. But when you’re used to thinking about your life this way, you don’t even pause to examine what you’re telling yourself. It simply feels like reality. These unhelpful thinking patterns feed anxiety, and these feelings reinforce the thoughts. It’s a cycle that can feel impossible to escape.
Learning to identify these thoughts and challenge them is a powerful way to shift your perspective on your life. It enables you to opt out of thought spirals that feel overwhelming and hopeless. CBT gives you the information and support that you need to make the changes that will free you.
CBT Therapy for Behavioural changes
Another common issue for people with anxiety is avoidance behaviours. If someone has a thought, situation, or task to do that brings up anxious or unhappy feelings, it’s natural to want to get away from those emotions. Unfortunately, that often becomes a pattern of behaviour people use to avoid thinking about or dealing with these tasks.
The actions people take to distract themselves could be things like binge-watching TV, ignoring phone calls, self-isolation, and drug or alcohol use. These behaviours aren’t automatically negative, but when they’re used to escape something instead of dealing with it, they can have negative effects.
An unfortunate truth about avoidance behaviours is that they not only don’t help, they usually make the situation worse. Trying to ignore something that’s upsetting you only makes it seem bigger and more intimidating. The dread you feel, knowing that something is unresolved, reinforces your belief that it’s scary and difficult.
Avoidance behaviours are, by definition, something people use to get away from facing something. So it makes sense that people tend to do them without being fully aware of what they’re doing or why. Again, the first step is identifying these patterns, so you can choose responses that are effective and move you closer to your goals.
CBT can help you make decisions about how you confront difficult issues. In this way, you can deal with things that used to feel overwhelming, which is an empowering change to make in your life.
One of the things that make it difficult to respond effectively during times of high anxiety is the body’s response to stress. The heart rate quickens and breathing becomes shallow. At the same time, people often feel disconnected from this physical response, and they are distracted and overwhelmed by the emotions they’re experiencing.
Mindfulness is an effective tool to interrupt this process. In CBT therapy, patients often work on developing techniques to help them stay grounded in their bodies and the moment, so they can weather moments of high emotion without feeling out of control. This may include journaling, meditation, and breathing exercises.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, it may feel scary to start therapy. But CBT offers many tools that can help free you from the patterns that are holding you back. At Trillium Counselling, our therapists are here to support you, and that includes discussing any anxiety you may feel about therapy. If you would like more information about CBT, please contact us. We also offer a free 20-minute phone consultation to address any questions you may have before getting started.
Anxiety often feels inescapable. But together, we can find a way forward