Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a leading technique in the mental health world. It’s based on the following principles:
- Mental health issues stem from inaccurate or unhelpful thought patterns.
- Mental health issues stem from unhelpful learned behavior.
- People can learn new, more helpful thoughts and behaviors, which helps improve mental well being.
There are various strategies used to improve thinking and behavior, like:
- Learning to notice inaccurate thinking patterns (called cognitive distortions) and assessing them against reality.
- Using problem-solving skills to deal with tough situations.
- Gaining a sense of self-efficacy (ability to accomplish things).
- Facing fears.
- Relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
CBT can be applied to a range of mental disorders. Today, we’ll discuss three easy self-help CBT exercises to help with anxiety, as it’s often the first course of action. Research has shown it to be a consistently helpful choice. The exercises discussed below are progressive. They should be combined over time, consecutively.
1. Identify the Thought
Sometimes, we may not know what beliefs trigger our anxiety. More likely, we have a general idea about situations that make us uneasy. When we’re in an anxious state, we may act on emotional impulse, instead of analyzing our thoughts.
Perhaps we feel anxious in social situations. E.g., a group of coworkers asks us to join them for lunch. We may feel uncomfortable but may not know why. This may lead us to avoid the outing altogether.
However, if we dig deeper, we may discover that we fear our coworkers’ perceptions of us. We may think, “Nobody wants me here. They don’t like me; they think I’m weird.”
2. Challenge the Thought
It can be easy to accept our thoughts at face value, particularly negative ones. But feelings aren’t always facts. This doesn’t mean that our emotions aren’t valid; they are. However, believing our coworkers dislike us doesn’t make it true.
This is particularly true if there isn’t proof. Challenging the thought is a technique where we examine our thinking and determine its accuracy. To do this, we should first analyze where the belief comes from. Were we bullied during childhood? Told we weren’t “cool” enough? Excluded often? How did this impact our self-esteem?
Next, we should ask ourselves what proof we have that our coworkers dislike us. This should be concrete, not things we’ve made up. Have our coworkers been mean? Have they intentionally excluded us in the past?
Lastly, we can compare our thinking to the reality of the situation. If there isn’t proof to backup our anxiety, our assumptions may be untrue. Why would our coworkers invite us if they didn’t like us?
Reframing is the ability to change how we think about situations, thereby changing how we experience them. To do this, we first need to learn about our thought patterns. There are many types of thinking distortions that can lead to stress and anxiety. In this case, assuming our coworkers dislike us is a form of jumping to conclusions.
Once we’re aware of our thinking distortions, we can be mindful to notice them when they happen. When we catch ourselves thinking “My coworkers hate me”, we can make note of it. To build this awareness, we can journal each time we notice. We can write about the thought, and what was happening when it occurred.
We can also practice meditation, which helps us view our thoughts from an observer perspective.
Then, we can replace our negative thought with a more helpful one. We should be mindful not to exaggerate when thought swapping. E.g., “All of my coworkers think I’m the most awesome person around, and I can do no wrong.”
We know this is unrealistic. This may send us deeper into the spiral of self-doubt and anxiety. Instead, we should swap our negative thought with a tolerable, realistic one. E.g., “Even if I feel uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean my coworkers don’t like me. Everyone feels weird sometimes.”
For those of us with mild to moderate anxiety, self-help CBT could be a useful management tool. At-home techniques are free, and only require that we make an active effort to practice them. However, speaking with a qualified mental health practitioner shouldn’t be ruled out. Even if we choose to practice self-help CBT, a counselor can help us refine our process. This will ensure we get the most benefit from it. Whatever route we choose, CBT is a time-tested technique for anxiety management. So, swap of those negative thoughts for helpful ones, and start feeling better!