Anxiety is, unfortunately, a very common experience for individuals all across the globe. What differs are the causes of that anxiety, what skills a person has to manage their anxiety, and what helps them overcome it. There are several types of anxiety disorders that clients may suffer from that leads them to seek help from a mental health professional. Most therapists are familiar with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its history of being a useful protocol for the treatment of anxiety disorders in the industry. So what CBT techniques for treating anxiety and when might they come in handy?
The Basics of Cognitive Behavioral Theory
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that providers can use to teach clients how to develop new coping skills as well as undo negative patterns of thinking or behavior about oneself or challenges in life. Through talk therapy led by the provider, clients uncover patterns that have a negative impact on their life and learn skills that help them regulate their emotions, cope with life circumstances, and act in a way that benefits their mental and emotional wellbeing. This technique is commonly used on clients with anxiety disorders to help them learn how to self-regulate their emotions and change their behaviors.
CBT Techniques for Anxiety:
Cognitive restructuring is a technique that lies at the core of CBT and is the process of changing thought patterns. There are dozens of cognitive restructuring techniques that can help clients identify the lines of thinking that make them anxious and learn how to change those patterns. For example, therapists can teach their clients to start questioning the assumptions they have that lead to anxiousness. Oftentimes, the question “what if” leads clients down a rabbit hole of anxiety where they are questioning the future and making assumptions about what it will look like. Teaching clients to question these assumptions and doubt them can help distance them from the thought so they do not continue to spiral.
Another CBT technique for anxiety is to guide a patient through their own thought process. This is referred to as guided discovery and is meant to dissect a client’s thought pattern and teach them why it is not constructive or why it leads them to feel anxious. This is done by asking a client to describe the thought pattern that led them to feel anxious from the beginning and stopping to talk them through each step of that process so they can hear the issues that exist in it. While the therapist is doing the dissecting at first, this is hopefully a skill that the client will develop to practice on themselves to keep them from letting their thought process skin out of control.
A common experience for those that experience frequent anxiety is to avoid the things that trigger their anxiety. For example, if someone gets anxious in social situations, they might tend to avoid crowds or gatherings. This is not ultimately helpful to them because it does not diminish their social anxiety, it just hides it for later. Graded exposure is the idea that slowly exposing someone to the things that make them anxious, and teaching them how to cope in those moments, will change their thought patterns that lead to the anxiety. Therapists can start by roleplaying with their clients for what a social situation might look like, then task them will additional exposure experiences that will help them conquer and diminish negative thought patterns.
Mindfulness is a common CBT technique that teaches self-regulation and self-soothing. The combination of the two is regularly used in the field to teach clients how to remain in the present moment. This is useful for clients with anxiety disorders that often pull them into the past or the future of what was or could be. Meditation is a mindfulness technique designed to help a client bring themselves back to the present moment when they might be experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
Successive approximation is a CBT technique for anxiety that helps people tackle goals. For clients that might be struggling to conquer goals due to their anxiety, this might be useful. Whether their anxiety is around the goal itself or something else, this exercise identifies the issue and forms achievable steps toward accomplishing it. In this exercise, therapists take tasks that seem overwhelming and help their clients break them down into smaller, more realistic, and accomplishable goals. For example, if a client is experiencing anxiety around cleaning their home because it seems like too large of a project, a therapist might help them make a plan to clean it one room at a time, or one surface at a time.
There are dozens of CBT techniques for anxiety and these are only a few.