Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States with an estimated 40 million adults suffering from an anxiety disorder. Some of these anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (chronic worrying), panic disorder (anxiety attacks), specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treatment for anxiety disorders is very effective and yet the majority of people that suffer from anxiety disorders do not seek the help they need. Some potential reasons for this may be that they don’t realize they have a problem, they have financial difficulties, or because of the lingering stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues.
The most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders to date is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in which you learn to change your negative thoughts and self-defeating behavior patterns. If you’ve been to therapy, chances are your therapist has used CBT techniques when working with you. But what if you are like the other millions of Americans who suffer from an anxiety disorder and don’t feel comfortable going to therapy? That’s perfectly understandable. Depending on the severity of your anxiety you may be able to work through your anxiety without the aid of a therapist. However, please note, if you have given multiple techniques a try and your anxiety prevails, it is time to seek professional help. That’s what I did, and it made all the difference!
If you’ve decided you’re ready to get to work on your anxiety, great! You’ve taken the first step towards feeling a whole lot better. Here are a couple of effective CBT techniques for working through anxiety. You may find that only one or none of the techniques I list helps you. Don’t worry, there are plenty more where this came from! I discovered these techniques and many more by reading When Panic Attacks by David Burns so feel free to give that book a read or scour the internet for more ideas.
Oftentimes we may cling to a negative thought or habit because deep down we believe it is beneficial to us, and in some ways, it probably is. But in most cases, the costs of continuing to believe a negative thought far outweigh the benefits. To examine this visually, write the attitude, feeling, or habit that you want to change at the top of a piece of paper. Now create two columns and label them “advantages” and “disadvantages”. Fill out the chart, weigh each column against each other, and rate each column out of 100.
For example, a negative attitude that I struggle with is tying my self-worth to my grades. Some advantages to this are that it motivates me to do well in school and when I get good grades it gives my self-esteem a huge boost. Some disadvantages are that I worry about my grades constantly to the point that it affects my day to day life and when I get a grade lower than I was hoping for my self-esteem takes a huge hit. I would rate the advantages a 30 and the disadvantages a 70. This helps me see that despite the advantages, I’m better off letting go of this attitude.
Most people are far harder on themselves than they are on their friends. The double-standard technique lets you use this to your advantage. Write up a script where you are talking to a friend. Have your “friend” tell you about the negative thought, habit, or attitude that you are experiencing and respond as you would to a friend. Here is a brief hypothetical example.
Friend: My girlfriend broke up with me. There has to be something wrong with me. I know it’s all my fault. I’m probably impossible to be in a relationship with.
Me: I can imagine that must have been awful to go through. But I’m confused as to how you came to the conclusion that there is something wrong with you?
Friend: I just feel so worthless, guilty, and ashamed, she must have left because I wasn’t good enough.
Me: That’s not true at all! There are plenty of reasons that could explain why she broke up with you. People leave relationships for all sorts of reasons. And just because you feel worthless doesn’t mean you are worthless.
Keep up this fake dialogue until you feel like you’re finally starting to break through to your friend (yourself).
This technique can help you get to the bottom of what you are really afraid of. Write down a negative thought or attitude that you hold. Ask yourself, “What if this thought was true? What would happen? Why would it be upsetting to me?” and write down whatever negative thought comes up next. Continue doing this until you feel you’ve gotten to the bottom of the barrel. This can help you uncover the fear that is triggering your anxiety.
Again, these are only three of tons of techniques, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t find any of these helpful!