CBT for Anxiety: An Introduction

By Amy Brightman, LCSW

Anxiety is a common reason people seek therapy, and for many it's after they noticed that anxiety has a large presence within their day. Clients describe their anxiety as being uncomfortable and having a negative influence on their personality, explaining that they’ve become more irritable or less able to hold back their frustration. When clients come in describing such experiences with anxiety, I spend a lot of time explaining and exploring how these emotional experiences are a result of unhelpful thought patterns.  The thoughts are so automatic and fast, that most people only notice the emotional, behavioral and physical consequences, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and irritability that can come along with anxiety. To put it simply, the way one thinks, influences the way one behaves and feels. This is the crux of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

CBT has been proven to be an incredibly helpful approach for a variety of emotions, particularly for anxiety-related diagnoses and experiences. If you can change the way you think, then changes in your emotions and behaviors will follow. For those looking to manage their anxiety, I recommend a combination of Stress Management CBT, and Distress Tolerance skills —Stress Management to be proactive in keeping your stress levels within a reasonable range, CBT to manage your perception of events and your responses to these events and Distress Tolerance to get you through the moment. If you can reduce your distress in the moment, then you can think rationally and clearly, enabling you to implement CBT concepts. 

In CBT you are working on retraining the way you think. When you are constantly engaging in thinking that leads to anxiety, it can generate a great deal of distress. A goal is to develop skills to catch the way you’re thinking, or your “thinking style,” and understand them as biases or distortions in your thinking. Once you are able to catch your thoughts, you then can work on checking them for any bias and finally you can move on to change them. These are the three C’s of CBT: Catch it, Check it, Change it. 

For now, let’s start with the “Catch it” of CBT. Start with a weekly practice: when you notice your anxiety, jot down what happened - make a quick note about the situation that occurred right before you noticed your anxiety creep up. Who was involved? What was going on? Where were you? This will help you get an idea of your triggers and will help you develop the ABCs of CBT. Stayed tuned for future articles about understanding CBT through the ABC model and strategies to manage anxiety. 

Amy Brightman, LCSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are looking for support with managing anxiety, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help.