Mandy Kloppers

Will cognitive behavioural therapy help my anxiety?

CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is a great antidote for anxiety. Most CBT therapists start by explaining how anxiety affects us on a more basic level. When we feel threatened, our immediate reaction is one of these three: flight, fight or freeze.

We either try to fight the threat, run away from the threat or do nothing out of fear. Our body panics, our heart rate rises, we may get sweaty palms – this is our body preparing us to deal with the threat. All of this takes place in the ‘older’ more primitive part of our brain. As we have evolved, our frontal lobe has developed and allowed us to show empathy for other living organisms and to have a greater ability to reason emotionally. One way to overcome anxiety is to understand the natural responses we have to anxiety and to realise that we aren’t under threat.

Modern day threats are very different to when we were cavemen many many years ago. Now when we feel threat (eg. I might be rejected or I might fail) our body still reacts the same way.

One way to deal with this is to remind ourselves of the lack of real threat (ie. there is no lion in the room about to eat me). Wait for the frontal lobe to engage and then see what can be done about the modern day threat. This strategy can avert panic attacks and phobias.

Many anxious people have positive views about their anxiety/worry. They believe that worrying keeps them safe but research has shown this just isn’t true.

Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” Now there’s a study that proves it. This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen. Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

CBT teaches you to dismiss fearful thoughts and remind youorself that they aren’t facts, they are just thoughts and you don’t have to focus on them. CBT also teaches you to experiment a little. So, you are worried that if you go to that party where you won’t know anyone that you will make a fool of yourself. Set up an experiment by asking yourslef what you worry might happen if you do go.

Example: If I go to the party, no one will talk to me and I will look a fool.

Then go to the party and experiment – use APPROACH behaviour rather than avoidance to reality test fears and 9 times out of 10 you will find your fears are unfounded. On the one time that things do backfire, you still realise that you get through and life carries on. This actually adds to confidence rather than detracting from it. So either way, you can’t lose…keep on facing your fears. That’s the basic gist of it.

CBT can defnitely help with anxiety. If you are anxious, find a CBT therapist or do a free online course. There are many on offer. Just google free online CBT courses.

Get the help you need. Life is too short to be afraid and hold back.

Mandy X