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Conquer Anxiety with Cognitive behavioral therapy

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If you suffer from panic attacks, persistent obsessive thoughts, worries that wont go away, are constantly ruminating on the negative things that you believe will happen or a phobia that incapacitates you, you could have a mild to severe anxiety disorder. The good news is you don’t have to live with anxiety and fear. Treatment can help, and for many anxiety problems, cognitive behavioural therapy is particularly beneficial. A CBT therapist can teach you how to manage your anxiety levels, calm worrisome thoughts, and conquer your fears.

Treating anxiety disorders with CBT

When it comes to treating anxiety disorders, research shows that CBT is the most effective option. That’s because therapy—unlike anxiety medication—treats more than just the symptoms of the problem. CBT can help you deal with the the underlying causes of your worries and fears; develop and learn relaxation techniques and look at situations in new, less frightening and debilitating ways; and develop better coping and problem-solving strategies. CBT gives you the tools to overcome anxiety and teaches you how to use them.

A CBT therapist will tailor the therapy to to your specific symptoms and concerns. If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), your treatment will be different from a person who is getting help for anxiety attacks. The length of therapy will also depend on the type and severity of your anxiety disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, many people improve significantly within 8 to 10 therapy sessions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. Research has shown it to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, among many other conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. This involves two main components:

  • Cognitive therapy examines how negative thoughts, or cognitions, contribute to anxiety.
  • Behavioral therapy examines how we behave and react to situations that trigger anxiety.

The basic premise of CBT is that our thoughts, the way we perceive things, affect the way we feel and not the external events. In other words, it’s not what happens to you that determines how you feel, but your perception of the situation.

For people with anxiety disorders, negative thoughts fuel the negative emotions of anxiety and fear. The goal of CBT is to identify and correct these negative thoughts and beliefs. The principle is that if you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel

Thought challenging in CBT

Thought challenging—also known as cognitive restructuring—is a process in which the person challenges the negative thinking patterns that contribute to their anxiety, replacing them with more positive, realistic thoughts. This involves three steps:

  1. Identifying your negative thoughts.
  2. Challenging your negative thoughts.
  3. Replacing negative thoughts with realistic thoughts.

Other strategies commonly used in CBT:

  • Learning to recognize when you’re anxious and what that feels like in the body
  • Practising mindfulness
  • Learning coping skills and relaxation techniques to counteract anxiety and panic
  • Confronting the fears

Exposure therapy – Systematic desensitization

Rather than facing the biggest fear straight away, which can be traumatizing, exposure therapy usually starts with a situation that is mildly threatening. This step-by-step approach is called systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization allows you to gradually build confidence, and master skills for controlling panic.

Relaxation skills. The therapist will teach you a relaxation technique, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing. You’ll practice in therapy and on your own at home. Once you start dealing with your fears, you will use this relaxation technique to reduce physical anxiety responses (such as trembling and hyperventilating) and encourage relaxation.

Creating a step-by-step list. Next, you’ll create a list of frightening situations that progress toward your final goal. For example, if your final goal is to overcome your fear of public speaking , you might start by practising in front of a close friend you can trust and gradually build your audience.. Each step should be as specific as possible, with a clear, measurable objective.

Working through the steps. Under the guidance of your therapist, you’ll then begin to work through the list. The goal is to stay in each frightening situation until your fear subsides. That way, you will learn that the feelings are manageable and they do go away. Every time the anxiety gets too intense, you will use your relaxation technique to decrease the stress level. Once you’re relaxed again, you can turn your attention back to the situation. In this way, you will work through the steps until you’re able to complete each one without feeling overwhelmed .

There is no quick fix for anxiety. Overcoming an anxiety disorder takes time and commitment and persistence. Sometimes you might feel worse before you get better. The important thing is to stick with treatment and follow your therapist’s advice. If you’re feeling discouraged with the pace of recovery, remember that therapy for anxiety is very effective in the long run. You’ll reap the benefits if you see it through.

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