Anxiety is a normal response in many situations. It helps us gauge if we’re in danger and whether we need to get away from a particular place or person. The act of worry, fear and anxiety are survival skills that have been instrumental in us staking our claim as the dominant species on this planet. They are all perfectly normal responses to stress and danger. Anxiety becomes a problem when there is no immediate danger, yet we still experience those same pangs and bodily sensations that indicate a threat when, in fact, there is nothing to fear at all.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that was developed by Professor Aaron T. Becker in the 1960s and was originally intended to treat only depression. However, its success led to it being used for a wide array of psychological disorders. The reason for its effectiveness is it helps people overcome their problems by giving them the ‘tools’ to navigate their day-to-day challenges. The premise of CBT states what passes through our minds as a thought process (cognition) ultimately affects and then becomes our behaviours. The method CBT that employs is to intervene in these processes and create new ones.
This practical aspect and the learning of coping skills is one of the biggest advantages of using CBT for treating your anxiety. These skills that make up the core of a CBT program, also make coming off medication and living a more independent life much easier than if it was attempted without any supporting structure in place.
Right from the outset, you’ll need to be aware of creating a realistic coping plan. If you have a fear of flying, you’re not going to overcome it by taking flying lessons. Making progress is all about taking measured steps towards your ultimate goal.
At this point, it’s also important to point out the difference between a coping strategy and a safety behaviour. Coping strategies help build resistance towards situations that are causing you anxiety – it is progressive. Safety behaviours, on the other hand, can also appear to help in the short-term, but in fact, have a detrimental effect, eating away at your confidence and create co-dependency.
Coping skills you’ll focus on developing using CBT include:
Ways of recognising your anxiety and stress
Ways of taking charge of your bodily sensations
Ways of managing problem thoughts and images
Ways of changing unhelpful behaviours
Ways of coping with life in general
Understanding how, why, and when you experience anxiety is one of the key fundamentals to overcoming it in the long-term. By far the most effective way of doing this is by journaling. By keeping records of your physical feelings, thoughts, and how you respond to triggering situations, it allows you to become aware of cyclical patterns that are dictating your actions and thought processes.
The more you engage in this act of self-monitoring, the more you’ll build up a picture of where your anxiety is taking over, so you can devise new ways of getting around. The key to overcoming your anxiety is by identifying and breaking these cycles. But more so than that, replacing those patterns with new, more positive behaviours.