Here are four Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques for anxiety relief. But first a quick description of CBT and the term, anxiety.
What is CBT?
Popularized by American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a present oriented therapy based on the combination of behavioral and cognitive psychiatry. It is widely used as a treatment for depression, anxiety and phobia and focuses on modifying dysfunctional and solving current problems.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a state of inner turmoil, a feeling of worry and nervousness. Unlike fear, which is a rational reaction to perceived threats, anxiety is a future-oriented emotion wherein the person feels as if they are not ready to cope with upcoming negative events. There may be no evidence to suggest that these upcoming negative events will ever occur but anxiety is felt nonetheless.
Decentralization involves using self-talk as a way of creating distance between our anxiety and ourselves. There are many ways of doing this. One involves naming your thoughts. Another involves singing your thoughts to a silly tune. The one I find most effective with my clients is by using syntax. If you are suddenly overcome with an intense feeling of anxiety, use the following technique to dampen its impact on you.
I am anxious. → I am feeling anxious. → I am aware that I feel anxious. → I notice that I am aware that I feel anxious. → I realize that I notice that I am aware that I feel anxious. → I know that I am realizing that I notice that I am aware that I feel anxious.
This may seem silly at first, but it’s an effective tool to use at the moments when you feel like your anxiety is at its most intense. By adding on extra pieces of grammar you are creating distance between yourself and the emotion.
This involves giving space to your anxiety. By reacting to your anxiety the way you do, you are trying to get it out of your system. You feel uncomfortable with it and therefore want to throw it out of you. This is essentially a control mechanism. There are other ways we try to control our anxiety. For example, if you switch on the TV and watch a couple of episodes of your favorite sitcom, or drink a few beers or eat some junk food. These are all methods we use to distract ourselves from our anxiety. They may work in the short-term but the long-term effects are devastating. The truth is, you have perfectly valid reasons to be anxious. You have to let the feeling exist inside of you.
1) Observe the feeling – Look inwards. Where does the feeling manifest itself in your body? How does it feel (hot / cold / sharp / prickly)? Is it big or small? Describe how it feels. HINT! – Watch this video!
2) Breathe – Breathe slowly and continue to observe the feeling.
3) Create room – Create space for the feeling. Imagine that part of your body opening up to accept the feeling. The idea here is to give it so much space that it seems insignificant.
4) Accept the feeling
What We Do!
Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions to people suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety as well as to people who suffer from displacement issues associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (i.e.Third Culture Kids – people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture – and Cross Culture Kids) Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 3-sessions or 5-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.
3) Objective Descriptions
This is used primarily in our descriptions of people but can be used in relation to events as well. If you think of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a therapy in which you train your human brain to override your monkey brain then the rationality behind Objective Descriptions will make sense to you.
This involves you describing what happens step-by-step and assigning an objective description of the events that have taken place from the perspective of all the people involved.
One example of this could be:
1) I was exhausted from studying for an exam.
2) I sent my professor an email about changes in the schedule. Since I was exhausted, I sounded a bit irritable.
3) My professor felt provoked because my email was written the way it was. He might have had a busy day himself and felt frustrated at having to deal with a student at the end of the day. He wrote an equally rude email back.
4) I received the email and felt badly treated. I was unable to see that I had been rude in my first email. I interpreted his email as an unprovoked attack on me and decided to retaliate.
Viewing events in the way, especially in real-time (this needs a bit of training), will help you to stop before you do something you regret. You can also use this to review something that happened earlier in the day and although it wouldn’t have stopped you from doing what you did, it will at least offer you the other person’s perspective on what happened and rationalise their actions instead of interpreting their actions as an attack on you.
Objective descriptions can also be used in relation to people. By only using facts when describing people and not using words that assign the person a value, you trick your brain into thinking that you live in a world where only objective descriptions exist, thus eliminating a main cause of our anxiety, the fear of being judged. Instead of using words such as ugly or beautiful, and fat or skinny, we stick to facts such as what color hair they have, the type of clothes they are wearing etc.
4) Socratic Questioning
A root cause of our anxiety is an innate fear of consequences. When we are at an interview, we may err on the side of caution so that we don’t make a fool out of ourselves. In this scenario, our anxiety is helping us. But in most cases the reason for it is invalid. Socratic questioning is a tool used by most CBT therapist. It involves examining the root cause of one’s anxiety by asking a series of why and how questions. If you find yourself feeling anxious, ask yourself why, then ask yourself why again.
For example, if you ask yourself why you are anxious before going to a party you may say that you are afraid that you will make a fool out of yourself. If you ask yourself why you are afraid of making a fool out of yourself you may say that you want people to like you. If you ask yourself why you want people to like you, you may say that the reason is that you don’t feel like there is anything likable about you. By continuing this process until you reach a point wherein it is impossible to answer the question, you will have examined the reason for your anxiety, better understood it and distracted yourself from getting caught up in it.
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Philip Andersson – Life Coach
Philip Andersson is a life-coach who is currently studying to become a psychotherapist. He treats people suffering from depression, phobias and anxiety. Having been raised in Hong Kong and having lived in England and Japan as an adult, Philip also treats people who are overcome with feelings of displacement and rudderlessness associated with a global-nomad lifestyle such as Third Culture Kids, Cross Culture Kids, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.