CBT, the love child of cognitive and behavior therapy, has taken the world of psychiatry with storm since its conception in the 90s.
It has long since established itself as the go-to source for rehabilitating anything anxiety related. This despite originally being developed as a therapeutic option for depression.
A rather unique quality of CBT is its ability to be helpful even in the absence of professional therapy. Many of the techniques taught during sessions of CBT are in fact just as simple to integrate at home.
This is not to say that professional therapy is now obsolete. In some cases it is absolutely necessary for recovery, and in most cases, it does make recovery quicker and more effective.
Do not hesitate to seek professional help if your anxiety appears uncontrollable. With that in mind, here are 5 CBT techniques to eliminate anxiety.
Write down harmful thoughts (Journaling)
A prevalent symptom and cause of anxiety are irrational thoughts . Bouts of anxiety can seem to appear out of nowhere because only a fraction of these harmful thoughts linger long enough to make it into consciousness.
Most of our thoughts will in fact never be experienced. They appear and disappear long before we notice their existence.
A consequence of this is that our anxiety-triggers and the thoughts they cause go unnoticed. But the physical reactions caused by the thoughts, like anxiety and panic, are always very apparent.
See, we don’t need to be consciously aware of our anxious thoughts for them to set off an internal alarm system. So whenever you start feeling anxious for no good reason, search through your last thoughts.
When we learn to catch these thoughts, we can examine and challenge them. Examining and challenging our anxious thoughts is a very effective way to control anxiety.
“Why go through the trouble of writing them down?”, you might ask.
It is a fair question.
Writing down our harmful thoughts is the key to understanding them. It might be possible to examine a thought without writing it down, but it’ll be a weak examination.
When we write down our thoughts it causes a very real change in perspective. It makes it easier to be fair and objective. But that’s not all, with a written record of our thoughts we can also begin to answer questions like:
- How often does this thought enter my mind?
- What kind of situations cause these thoughts?
- Is there a pattern to the thoughts?
- Do some thoughts often cluster together?
- Do some thoughts often cause others?
Developing this deep understanding of our anxious thinking gives us a first-line-defense. We are giving ourselves the ability to subconsciously block anxious thoughts in the future.
Examine and challenge your thoughts
When we have caught some of our harmful thoughts and written them down in our journal we can begin the process of examining and challenging. After all, it wouldn’t be much help if we just left them there in our journal unchallenged.
What we will find at this point is that our anxious brain is completely unreliable when it comes to judging dangerous situations.
It will set off every alarm and slam every panic button due to completely nonsensical and unlikely assumptions.
Some thoughts will be easier to challenge than others. We should nonetheless challenge everything we have written down.
“It is unlikely that my credit card gets declined, and even if it does, I always carry a bit of cash with me.”
“That spider couldn’t even hurt me if it tried, and regardless it is obviously more afraid of me than I am of it.”
“That person won’t hate me because I didn’t have time to hang out today, that’s a silly assumption.”
Everything can and should be challenged in the same way.
Some ideas are more difficult to shake
When we encounter a belief that is difficult to challenge we can try to imagine that this belief is held by a dear friend, and that we’re trying to help them.
Even after writing our thoughts down, it can be difficult to analyse them objectively, but we can often find it in ourselves to be more logical and unbiased when helping someone else.
“Just because your boyfriend hasn’t been as warm and open lately, it doesn’t mean he is cheating on you, he is probably going through something. Asking him is better than making weird assumptions.”
“You studied lots for this test, and you know you answered at least half of the questions correctly. Maybe you won’t get the best grade, but of course you will pass! And you should be proud of the work you put in, not the results.
The more thoughts we write down, examine, and challenge, the more effective our brains will be at making accurate judgements in the future. We’ll see our levels of anxiety begin to drop as soon as we reach that point, and it’ll only get easier from there on.
Practice solution-oriented thinking
Most of the thinking we do is solution-oriented.
- “Where did I leave my keys?”
- “What should I say next?”
- “How many eggs do I need for this recipe?”
But some types of thinking, especially those seen in anxiety disorders, are the exact opposite of solution-oriented. Rumination, worry, and mind-wandering to mention a few. They are what some might call overthinking.
When we engage in overthinking we are manufacturing our own unhappiness and worry. Nothing good comes from obsessing about how much money we owe, how much time we have left in this lifetime, or about that one time we tripped in front of our crush in middle school.
If you often catch yourself overthinking, consider implementing what is taught in the video below.
Note that the video above is not TheAnxietyLad’s property. For more information, look up the original creator, Rafael Eliassen.
PS: It is not always unhealthy to spend a lot of time thinking about a particular issue or event. Some problems require a lot of time, and must be attacked from many angles before a solution can be found. As long as your mindset is one of problem-solving, you should be perfectly fine.
Some find solace in setting aside time now and then to freely overthink. As long as it is happening in a controlled environment it can actually be very healthy and therapeutic.
Accept your anxiety
This is not the first time I mention the concept of embracing anxiety.
It was covered briefly in my article on
The idea is that trying to fight, avoid, or otherwise struggle against the feelings of anxiety only increase negative emotions.
Naturally, trying to oppose anxiety means spending time thinking about anxiety, or trying very hard not to. It means we have to spend time and energy, that could be directed toward something positive, thinking about something we consider bad and negative.
Not only is this reject-whatever-I-don’t-like centered mindset a huge roadblock for anxiety recovery. People who engage in this kind of thinking experience depression both more frequently and more intensely.
The healthiest course of action is to accept and observe what we are feeling, but without reacting, without becoming emotionally invested. The truth is that anxiety is not something negative, it is not something we need to fight or hate. It just is.
Get to know your anxiety
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu.
Now, I don’t want anyone to consider their anxiety an enemy, that will interfere with the whole acceptance thing. But I do want you to consider your anxiety something that can be challenged and ultimately prevailed over.
What I want is for you to actively seek more knowledge not only about anxiety in general, but specifically about your anxiety.
- Read books
- Follow blogs
- Join networks/forums
- Write about your own experiences
The theory is that through immersion in the subject a resilience towards anxiety will develop naturally.
It’s easier to handle a panic attack if you know it is not a heart attack.
It’s easier to accept and face anxiety without fear if you know what anxiety is.
It’s easier to cope with anxiety if you have a support network that knows exactly what you’re going through.
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