Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health


Self Improvement

Mandy Kloppers

Cognitive behavioural therapy and anxiety


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Cognitive behavioural therapy and anxiety

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a great intervention for anxiety. Understanding where anxiety comes from is extremely useful in being able to tackle feelings of fear and doubt creeping. Cognitive behavioural therapy looks at the interaction between the thoughts we are having, the feelings that arise from these thoughts, the behaviour that ensues as well as physical symptoms associated with the thoughts feelings and behaviour. Anxiety is part of the normal response when we feel fear. The moment we feel threatened our bodies go into “fight, flight or freeze mode”. This mode consists of physical sensations such as sweating, heart palpitations, dry throat and so on. This is the body signal that something is wrong. Researchers refer to the old part of our brain as being the part that reacts without thinking-the part that our Neanderthal ancestors used. The newer part the brain include the frontal lobe which separates us from other organisms. The frontal lobe is responsible for reasoning and allows us to think things through rather than react instinctively. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps us to use the newer part of our brain by stopping and thinking.

We all have ways of reducing anxiety but sometimes the habits we gain end up complicating matters even further. For example, someone who is afraid they will lose their job may begin drinking more alcohol in an attempt to reduce their anxiety. This unhelpful behaviour will compound the initial problem rather than resolve it. Cognitive behavioural therapy examines our unhelpful and irrational thoughts helps us to replace these dysfunctional thoughts with more realistic ones.

For example: a recent client told me that they are a failure in life. When we look for the evidence of this we may find some examples that led to the client to believing this but they will also be just as many examples that refute this idea. Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches us to reframe our core beliefs. An alternative way to think might be: I may make mistakes in life that does not mean that I am a complete failure.

Part of cognitive behavioural therapy also involves looking at the behaviour that comes from the unhelpful thinking. Typical examples of unhelpful thinking are-over generalising, black and white thinking (a.k.a. all or nothing), catastrophising and negative filter (where we only look at what is wrong and ignore the positives). The above thinking will lead to unhealthy behaviours. Cognitive behavioural therapy involves challenging thinking by setting up social experiments to challenge the thoughts. For example: if someone feels anxious about going to a movie on their own because they worry about what others might think, a behavioural experiment might involve taking small steps towards going to a movie on their own. Usually what happens is that the anticipation and the thoughts of what might happen never arrive and this helps a person to reframe the thinking. This is also known as cognitive restructuring.

Challenging thinking and doing what you fear of great ways to reduce anxiety. Having goals and purpose in life are also a great way to keep anxiety at bay. When we have direction and purpose it is more likely that we will spend less time ruminating and obsessing, often over things we have no control over. Unfortunately anxiety is part of life for some of us is far more intrusive than it used to be. Thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy, there is now an effective method to counteract the distressing effects of anxiety.

Mandy X

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