The Secret to Treating Your Anxiety

Girl feeling anxious (illustration)

Anxiety disorders are both common and debilitating—so much so that they have their own section in “the Medical Listing of Impairments,” the publication used by the Social Security Administration to determine which illnesses are eligible for disability benefits.

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias (including social phobia)

Two-Prong Treatment: Medication and Therapy

These anxiety disorders are rooted in both chemical and cognitive causes. Consequently, the best treatment is both medication and therapy. Medication is a uniquely individual choice made with a trusted psychiatrist.

Therapy, the other essential component of treatment, is not so straight-forward. It requires that you put effort into a process led by a licensed therapist. Good, consistent therapy practiced not just in the psychologist’s office but incorporated in daily life is often the secret to managing and treating anxiety (when combined with medication). The best therapy will gradually change your perspectives and thoughts, eventually decreasing the severity of your anxiety and improving your quality of life.  The best way to treat anxiety is often cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

If you are one of the 40 million American adults experiencing an anxiety disorder and you haven’t tried CBT yet, it’s time to give it a shot.

CBT is the most widely used form of therapy for anxiety, and the most effective. CBT treats a wide variety of mental disorders. The premise behind CBT is that you can identify and change any thoughts and perceptions that don’t help you to live a healthy, happy life.

What does CBT look like?

CBT addresses the relationship between your thoughts/beliefs, feelings of anxiety, and behaviors that result from that anxiety. The CBT model suggests that a situation doesn’t force you to feel anxious/depressed, but rather you might react with those responses because of your specific beliefs about the situation. Basically, the idea is that it’s not the events themselves that make us feel a certain way, but the meaning we give them.

CBT helps you understand your core beliefs or feelings and then challenges them. For example, let’s say a mother is constantly having anxious thoughts about her children and calls them multiple times a day; she has a sense that something awful is going to happen to them. This sense of dread and fear is a facet or symptom of the anxiety, not a reflection of reality. CBT would allow her to identify, understand, and then challenge this perception. The mother could ask herself and discus with the therapist: Is it likely that something awful is going to happen to them, at any moment of the day? What negative things have happened in the past? And what happened as a result–was it the end of the world? How did it work out?

Challenging anxious feelings and thoughts in a CBT session can then help a person do the same on their own.

Can I practice CBT on my own?

Trying to practice CBT on your own without the guidance of a licensed therapist will not be very effective. Although there are certainly things you can gain from studying the theory of CBT on your own. In order to gain the maximum benefits, however, you need to be in treatment.

Once you are in treatment, not only can you practice CBT on your own, you must practice it on your own in order for CBT to be fully effective.

Doing “homework” for CBT is a key component of the therapy. “Homework” might include keeping track of the situations that cause you anxiety and how you deal with them. It could also include you recording a time you implemented a technique practiced in therapy, etc.

There are many online resources that can help you do CBT at home. A few include:

Changing thoughts we’ve had over a lifetime is difficult and time-consuming. It takes dedication. However, it also really works. CBT can help you to treat your anxiety so that even if it disables you, you will be able to feel that you have some control over it. It will eventually make it easier to deal with.

Photo courtesy of MikaelF Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons

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