The number of people suffering from anxiety disorders in the UK is rising and has tripled amongst young adults, now affecting 30% of young women aged 18 – 24. This increase combined with worsening overall mental health in adults means more people are turning to talking therapies like CBT to help them.
You’ve probably noticed that the phrase CBT is being used more and more when discussing how to deal with anxiety, but what is it, and how does it help? CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It’s a talking therapy that aims to change the way people think and behave, mainly used to treat anxiety and depression.
In this blog, we’re going to give an overview of CBT as a practice and highlight the top 5 ways it can help people suffering from anxiety disorders.
How does CBT work?
CBT is delivered by a Cognitive Behvaioural Therapist who works either with individuals or a group of people.
It is a practical way to help deal with the thoughts that lead to anxiety by dealing with current issues that amplify the anxiety. This is a different approach to other talking therapies that focus on discussing a person’s past.
A therapist will work with a person with anxiety to recognise their thoughts and behaviours and recognise the patterns of behaviours they are experiencing. Once they have identified these patterns, they can break them down and change them to help improve the way a person feels. This is done by changing behaviours and teaching relaxation techniques to help people deal with their problems more positively.
CBT as a practice recognises the links between a person’s thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions. Once the anxiety sufferer understands this link, they can work with their therapist to improve their lives by lessening the crippling impact that anxiety can have on a person’s life.
Top 5 ways CBT helps people with Anxiety disorders:
Anxiety disorders can range in severity, but all take a toll on the sufferer’s ability to deal with everyday stresses and events. Coping with anxiety through CBT can help people in many ways, but we wanted to share some of the most common ways the therapy can help people.
1 – Overcoming fears
It’s common for anxiety sufferers to have specific fears that cause their anxiety. This could include a fear of flying, heights, or a fear of social situations. It’s common for people to have manageable levels of anxiety around those things, but this anxiety becomes crippling for some people. CBT can help people with their phobias through careful, measured exposure.
A therapist will support an individual to work their way up to face their fears using systematic desensitization. This can help people live without fear and anxiety that stops them from experiencing positive things like family holidays abroad or attending parties and events.
2 – Challenges negative thoughts
Everyone experiences something called “self-talk,” even if we don’t label it. It’s the internal thoughts or conversations we have with ourselves. For people with anxiety disorders, their self-talk can be very negative and worrisome, creating more and more anxiety.
CBT helps to recognise these negative thoughts and try to identify if they have any grounding in reality. For example, is what you’re saying to yourself really true or just a fear of what might happen? The next step is to ask if these thoughts are helpful or not. Once these thoughts are recognised, a cognitive behavioural therapist will support the individual to replace the negative thoughts with more positive or helpful thoughts.
3 – Stops avoidance
Anxiety can be defined by avoidance. Once a person has a negative experience, such as a panic attack at a supermarket, they will avoid going back to the supermarket. Though this may seem like a logical step, it actually heightens their anxiety.
CBT encourages anxiety sufferers to face the experiences they would usually avoid to help them have a positive experience. Once the person realises that nothing bad will happen, the anxiety lessens, and they are less likely to avoid the same experience in the future.
4 – Makes everyday life more manageable
Some anxiety sufferers have specific worries and fears but others have generalised anxiety known as GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder). CBT helps sufferers break down their thought patterns and find ways to improve their state of mind on a day-to-day basis. This can be life-changing for GAD sufferers. By lessening the sense of dread that is with them all of the time, CBT helps them feel less on edge and enables them to focus more easily on daily tasks.
5 – Increases confidence
Suffering from anxiety can harm an individual’s confidence. They can believe they don’t have the same skills as everyone else to deal with certain situations. CBT actively challenges these beliefs and gives people clear examples to cope with things they would have otherwise avoided. This aspect of CBT increases the sufferer’s confidence in all aspects of their life.
It’s important to say that the above are just examples of how CBT may help people suffering from anxiety; everyone’s experiences and reasons behind their anxieties will be different.
What is clear is CBT is a highly effective treatment for anxiety, with research finding it can be effective after as little as eight sessions. These effects are the same for people taking an anti-anxiety medication or not.