Using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to Reduce Anxiety

Estimated watch time: 5 mins 25 secs


When we have anxiety, a lot of what we feel and experience is due to our internal dialogue and our distortions in thinking. This guide walks you through steps to understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviors to see how they influence anxiety. With cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you can learn to take a closer look at your inner dialogue and how it’s affecting your anxiety.

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Using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to Reduce Anxiety

Welcome to this series on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly referred to as CBT, for anxiety. In this lesson we will discuss how to use cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce anxiety.

CBT helps you understand how your thoughts, feelings and behavior interact to maintain anxiety.

Imagine you have an invitation to a party. As it draws nearer, you start to feel anxious about going. You think you won’t have a good time. You decide not to go.

CBT offers a different approach.

Instead of being on autopilot, that’s where you make a decision without awareness of the thinking behind the decision, CBT techniques shed light on your thought process.

If you stop for a moment, you can listen to your internal dialogue.

Take the party example. Do you think that there might be someone there you do not want to see? That there might not be many people there you know? Do you think about that first cringey moment when everyone stops and looks at you? About negative things they may think of you?

These thoughts raise your anxiety. They make it easy to decide not to go. The same thing can happen when you decide whether to take on a new project at work, call a friend, or go to the store.

Anything that raises your anxiety, making you question moving forward, has a set of thoughts behind it.

CBT helps you notice how your internal dialogue can raise, or lower, your anxiety.

The first step is to notice the anxious feeling. Next, notice the internal dialogue. Once you can hear your internal dialogue, you can start to work on changing it. There are specific distortions, or biases, in our thinking that raise anxiety. These are some of the distortions that raise anxiety, and how you can combat them.

Catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when you automatically think the worst possible thing is going to happen.

In the party example, you think you’ll run into someone you’d rather not see and it’s going to be a disaster.

When you take the time to think it through, maybe you have made a mountain out of a mole hill. You can always walk away from an uncomfortable encounter. That person may not even be there.

Counter the irrational thinking, instead of letting the anxiety make your decision for you.

All or nothing thinking. All or nothing thinking is when you miss the middle ground.

You make a snap decision not to go to the party because you decide you won’t know anyone there and it will be awkward.

Instead, take time to think. You might not know many people there, but you know the person who invited you. One five-minute conversation with an interesting person is a win. You may feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s good to get out. You may have an opportunity to meet someone new or talk to an old friend.

Perfectionism and the need for approval. You decide you can’t go to the party because people will look at you and judge you—your hair, your clothes. They’ll talk to you and judge you—your intellect, how interesting you are, and so forth.

Instead, ask yourself why your standards are so high that you assume you will fall short. Does everyone at a party care about how you look? Do you care about what everyone thinks? And if you do, why? Will you ever see those people again? Do you always have to look and be perfect? Do you always need everyone’s approval?

Acknowledge that you do not have to be perfect, that you do not need everyone’s approval. Plan to relax and enjoy yourself.

Need for control. The experience of doing something new or making a change requires letting go of control. We simply do not ever know how things are going to turn out.

Whether it’s a party, a new job or a new partner. We can put on our party shoes. We can try to be prepared. We can be our best selves. But when your internal dialogue says you need to have control, gently remind yourself that you can’t control the future. And that’s okay.

These thinking distortions raise your anxiety. They do not serve you well. Anxiety doesn’t feel good. It frequently keeps you from doing things you want to do.

Instead, when you feel anxious, notice your internal dialogue, notice the distortions in the thoughts you’re having, and dispute those patterns.

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