Evidence shows that using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety works. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on replacing maladaptive thoughts and behaviors with positive, healthy ones. Patients are taught to recognize, question, and refute negative behaviors and thought patterns, and then to replace them with more adaptive versions. By learning to do this, we engage in new ways of thinking and acting. Using CBT to treat anxiety helps us more effectively manage our anxiety symptoms.
Living with anxiety means walking a constant tightrope, balancing precariously day in and day out to function and react appropriately to stress and uncertainty. Like many others with anxiety, I’ve often turned to medication for help maintaining that balance. Unfortunately, the anxiety medications I’ve tried often either don’t work or leave me too fuzzy and tired to function normally. Thankfully, there is another scientifically-validated option.
Use of CBT to Treat Anxiety Is Evidence Based
Evidence for CBT in treating anxiety is strong. There are multiple methods of CBT, and meta-analytic research shows them all to be among the safest, most effective, and longest-lasting treatments available. 1 They appear to work well and improve the quality of life equally for patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Treat Anxiety With CBT at Home
- Calm breathing. When we’re anxious, our breath becomes rapid and shallow, causing us to experience additional anxiety. To correct this, consciously slow the breath by inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of four seconds. Hold for one second. Then exhale deeply through the mouth for another count of four. Wait one second and then repeat until calm.
- Realistic thinking. What maladaptive thoughts might be contributing to the anxiety you’re feeling? Tease out the negative, unrealistic thought and replace it with something more balanced. For example, if you’re tasked with a complicated assignment, you may be thinking, “I can’t do that. I always screw everything up.” That’s maladaptive. Refute and replace that thought with something like, “We all make mistakes because we’re human, but that doesn’t mean I’ll make one today. If I put in my best effort, that’ll be enough.”
By calming the breath and engaging in realistic thinking, you enable yourself to more effectively ride out the physical and mental experiences of anxiety. The feelings pass more quickly than if you had done nothing, and you’re better prepared to meet the tasks ahead.
Medication and CBT to Treat Anxiety
Combining CBT with medication to treat anxiety may also be an option. I continue to take as-needed medication for panic attacks and I have the option to add a daily preventative if needed. Discussing all available anxiety treatments with your provider is the best way to ensure you’re getting the most effective treatment for you.
- Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012, October 01). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Retrieved August 03, 2017.