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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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