For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, you may be surprised to know that research has shown that therapy, not medication, is the most effective option for treatment. Medication masks symptoms, but therapy seeks to treat the root of the problem by reaching the root of worries and fears: our thoughts. One therapy which has shown to be highly effective for anxiety is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which seeks to explain how negative thoughts (“cognitions”) contribute to our behaviors and produce anxiety. Essentially, CBT is all about how each individuals’ thoughts shape the way they feel and react to the world. CBT holds that by overcoming negative thoughts individuals can learn to relax, re-evaluate situations, view them in a more objective light, and ultimately develop healthy and effective means of coping with anxiety.
The first step in using CBT to treat anxiety is learning about your problems, which therapists call “psychoeducation.” This provides those starting therapy with several almost immediate benefits, including knowledge about the problem and hope that the problem can be overcome.
Of course, psychoeducation is just the first step. Cognitive Behavioral therapists will go on to teach patients about behavioral strategies to relax in times of anxiety and effective ways of thinking to manage negative thoughts that may lead to anxiety. Patients are commonly taught Calm Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation, both of which counter the tendency to shallow breathing and muscle tension which accompanies stress, to help relax. Therapists also work to help you change unhelpful or unrealistic thoughts into realistic and balanced ones. Because thoughts greatly impact how we feel, this leads to improvement in anxiety levels.
CBT calls the replacement of negative thoughts with fair ones that are neither overly negative nor positive “realistic thinking.” Realistic thinking requires individuals to stop and pay attention to their self-talk (i.e., what their thoughts are telling them), evaluate them, identify which thoughts cause problems, and determine whether they are unrealistic or not. If they are, the final step is to replace any unrealistic thoughts with an alternative one that is balanced and realistic. Coping statements, such as “I have faced this before and I can handle it again,” and positive self-statements, like “I must be brave to face what scares me,” are also useful tools on the road to recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offers those suffering from anxiety a wonderful way out. When utilized with the help of a therapist, CBT is proven to be highly effective in treating anxiety. In fact, those treated with CBT are less likely to relapse then those who have used other methods, meaning that all the worry, panic, and fear that accompanies anxiety can go away—and stay away.