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How Does CBT Help Anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the world. As a result, there are many available treatment options. Right up there at or near the top of the list is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A short-term treatment, CBT is founded on the concept that thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behavior. Therefore, if distorted thinking can be identified and challenged, it will help unhealthy emotions and actions.

CBT can help teach someone with anxiety how to assess a situation before their embedded thought-feeling-behavior cycle kicks in. You might even choose to see it as pre-emptive fact-checking.

The 3 Steps of CBT For Anxiety

Identify the Distorted Thought

A person with anxiety may feel insecure or self-conscious. These negative thinking patterns can inspire feelings that they are unliked or unwanted. As a result, they avoid social gatherings. Recognizing this root cause is a giant first step toward healing.

Challenge the Distorted Thought

This is where fact-checking comes in. For example, if people don’t want you around, why would they invite you to the events you keep avoiding? It can be transformative to accept that your thoughts, feelings, and actions are not based on reality.

Replace the Distorted Thought

Once you realize that anxiety is lying to you, you can substitute a fact-based perspective. You might start with: Every when I feel uncomfortable or awkward in a crowd, people still like me and want me there. From there, new emotions and new behaviors will follow.

What Techniques Does a CBT Therapist Use to Apply the Above Steps?


In this technique, you’ll be guided to explore the thought patterns in your life. You may, for example, discover that you have a tendency to:

  • Fixate on minor episodes or details
  • Default to the worst-case scenario
  • Use singular events to generalize about all events

Such awareness increases your chances of eventually replacing these patterns.

Challenging Thoughts

Negative thoughts or “cognitive distortions” cannot stand up to real-life evidence. So, once you’ve identified these patterns, it’s time to examine them closely. Thoughts are sensations, not facts. Therefore, when a thought becomes chronic and invasive, it helps immensely to apply facts to it. This positions you to start trying out activities that you’ve been avoiding.

man in a business suit walking down a city streetBehavioral Activation

Speaking of activities that you’ve been avoiding, CBT will help you stop the avoidance. Anxiety is blocking you, not reality. Thus, as you move forward with your treatment, you’ll be encouraged to literally schedule an activity that you previously evaded doing. Write it in your calendar and, when the day comes, move forward — armed with a new awareness of the truth.

A subset of this technique is called “behavioral experiments.” These can be performed whenever you get caught up in worst-case-scenario thinking. You work with your therapist to list everything you feel anxious about. Then, you break down the items on this list — one by one — and basically deconstruct them.


You’ll want to keep a journal of journal of some sort. Keep track of your fears, doubts, and triggers. Monitor your thoughts and organize them into categories, e.g. anxious thoughts vs. thoughts based on facts. Another powerful list would be juxtaposing the negative thinking you experience with the new positive thoughts you are replacing that with.

Relaxation Techniques

CBT guides you to reduce stress by developing specific skills that can be applied whenever you need them. It might be progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, or whatever else works for you.

Learn More About How CBT Helps With Anxiety

If anxiety is hampering your daily functionality, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might be the right option for you. I invite you to reach out and learn more by scheduling a free and confidential consultation.

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What is CBT Used For?

CBT is short for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s a method of talk therapy that highlights the reality that our thoughts and our behaviors are connected. Once that connection is understood, it’s way easier to recognize how our distorted thought patterns shape our choices. CBT is very effective and is popular for taking place over a relatively few sessions.

It all sounds good, right? But, you’re wondering what is CBT used for. This post will focus on that but first, we’ll go over some basics of the treatment approach. How does it work and what principles and techniques are used?

How Does CBT Work?

To keep things brief, these three steps can help sum up CBT:

  • Assessing and challenging your current thought patterns
  • Replacing thought distortions with productive thought patterns
  • Altering your behavior when triggered

The techniques used to accomplish these goals include:

  • Cognitive reframing: Restructuring your perception in a positive way
  • Guided discovery: With your therapist’s help, you’ll learn how to see situations from multiple perspectives
  • Exposure therapy: Slowly confronting fears and phobias
  • Journaling: Keeping records of your thoughts and behaviors as they evolve
  • Scheduling new behaviors: Learning to not put off actions due to anxiety or fear
  • Behavior experiments: When scheduling those new behaviors, you’ll be asked to predict how it will go and then compare that with the actual outcome.
  • Stress reduction: This will involve visualization, deep breathing, and more.
  • Role-playing: Gain confidence, develop problem-solving tools, improve social and communication skills
  • Successive steps: Breaking big tasks into smaller, more attainable steps

woman smiling at something off cameraWhat is CBT Used For?

1. Anxiety

This goes for all forms of anxiety. CBT helps the client challenge the cognitive distortions that usually heighten anxiety. In other words, they become more skilled at facing up to fears and no longer default to avoiding them.

CBT has a stellar track record in treating two high-profile forms of anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

2. Depression

CBT was originally developed precisely for the purpose of treating depression. Generally speaking, CBT empowers people who suffer from depression as a mood enhancer. Also, it encourages them to replace negative thought patterns with accurate beliefs and thinking.

3. Eating Disorders

There are different types of disordered eating. Different forms of CBT can address different types of eating disorders. CBT is often combined with other modalities when used for anorexia nervosa. However, with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, CBT is usually the first line of treatment.

4. Schizophrenia

For people with schizophrenia, it is essential to disrupt the cycle of delusions leading to a worsening of all symptoms. CBT is an ideal option for this critical task.

Daily Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Whatever the reason you have sought treatment, the skills learned during CBT offer daily support, e.g.

  • Rational thinking: You now feel as if you are in control of your thoughts and thus, the behaviors they inspire.
  • Self-esteem: This feeling of self-control boosts confidence and self-esteem — two crucial components in the work of reducing symptoms.
  • Relaxation: Feeling confident in your ability to handle stress has a powerful calming effect on your mood.
  • Hope: People who have tried CBT report feeling more optimistic — not just about their condition or issues but about life itself.

Is CBT Right For You?

You’re surely curious about a treatment choice that:

  • Alerts you to distorted thinking and its impact
  • Teaches you how to reframe your negative thought patterns
  • Guides you away from relapse and toward recovery

With that foundation in mind, I suggest you reach out to learn more. CBT is a proven, effective treatment that occurs over a fixed number of sessions. Let’s find out if it’s best for you.