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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the leading form of therapy for anxiety, aims to correct ingrained patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors.

As the name suggests, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has two parts. Cognitive therapy helps people change patterns of thinking that prevent them from overcoming their fears. Behavioral therapy works to change their reactions in situations that trigger anxiety.

People with social phobia, for example, may assume that others will inevitably regard what they say as stupid. This is negative thinking. As a result, these people may avoid being with or talking to others. This is an example of negative behavior.

Cognitive Behavioral TherapyThe goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to break this chain of thoughts and reactions.

Because negative thoughts and behaviors tend to come to the fore when people are under stress, the first step in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to help you recognize when you’re stressed.

It’s important to have an inner “thermostat” that can tell you just how stressed you really are and how to dial it down.

Behavioral therapists say there are three components to a stress reaction. These are commonly called the ABCs: affect, behavior, and cognition.

Affect is how you feel; it refers to your emotional response to a particular situation. Behavior is what you do; for example, it can include tensing your jaw, tapping your foot, pacing, or overeating. Cognition refers to the thoughts you have when you are stressed; for example, thinking, “I’m going to miss my work deadline and get fired.”

Research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, specific phobia, and social phobia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be done individually or in a group. If the anxiety is the result of a traumatic event that affected more than one person, group therapy may be most effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy usually takes place weekly for several weeks or months; once your condition stabilizes, you may see the doctor once or twice a month or only if symptoms start to worsen.

The therapist typically begins by asking you to record your thoughts and level of anxiety in certain situations. Then, you and the therapist discuss these thoughts, evaluate how realistic they are, and work together to substitute more productive thoughts.

The therapist might also challenge you to consider what would happen if the fears came true, and whether that outcome would actually be so bad.

The behavioral component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy incorporates two main strategies.

The first, called exposure or desensitization, involves having people face their fears directly. This can be done in several ways.

One is through role-playing. Another is by having a person imagine frightening situations and describe them. Yet another strategy is to give people “homework” in which they put themselves in real-life situations that spark anxiety.

The reasoning is that avoiding anxiety-causing thoughts and situations reinforces fears or false beliefs.

In real-life situations, people can practice recognizing negative thoughts and substituting more realistic ones. With repeated exposure, people eventually become desensitized to fear-provoking situations.

The other main strategy is teaching people practical skills to help them feel more in control in difficult situations.

For those who become extremely anxious when they have a lot to do, this may mean offering tips on setting goals and managing time. Those who are uneasy in social situations can be coached in conversational techniques and other social skills.


 Thank you to the editors of Harvard Health Publications in conjunction with Michael Mufson, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.


 

Pat Wyman

Pat Wyman is the founder of HowToLearn.com and a best selling author.

She teaches at California State University, East Bay and is known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She helps children and adults solve learning problems with her Amazing Grades Study Skills System and is an expert in learning styles.

She teaches at California State University, East Bay and is known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert. She helps children and adults solve learning problems with her Amazing Grades Study Skills System and is an expert in learning styles.

Take the free quiz and find out your preferred learning styles.

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