If you’ve been suffering from anxiety and you’re looking for exercises to help you cope, there are some cognitive behavioral techniques that are proven to make a difference in how you experience your emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective type of therapy for anxiety and depression, but it’s been proven to be successful for other issues and mental illnesses as well. It works by using a variety of techniques to help patients focus on their negative thoughts and feelings, identify thought patterns, and reframe those thoughts to make them less harmful.
One of the reasons CBT is such a good solution for anxiety disorders, in particular, is that it blends the relationship aspect of talk therapy with actionable, practice-based exercises that actually change patients’ emotions and behaviors in the face of triggers and stressors.
CBT techniques for anxiety
It’s best to practice cognitive behavioral therapy with the guidance of a trained provider — there are some techniques you really need another person to implement — but if you want to get started with some practice exercises in the meantime, here are some of the types of techniques you might try on your own.
- Journaling — Journaling is a great way to start the process of tracking your thoughts and emotions. You can write down details like how you’re feeling, what the date/time is, how strong the feeling is, whether you have any physical symptoms such as chest tightness or shaking, what happened just before you experienced the emotion or thought, etc. This can help you identify patterns over time, and set you up to analyze and address those patterns.
- Mindful breathing — You may have practiced mindful breathing before, if you’ve ever taken a yoga class or tried meditation. It’s essentially slowing down and paying attention to your breath, and it’s a great way to regulate your nervous system and calm your body’s response to big emotions. You can find a guided meditation to follow on YouTube or download a podcast, or you can try this simple technique: breathe in for four counts, hold for five counts, then breathe out for six counts. Repeat as many times as you need to.
- Progressive muscle relaxation — This is like a physical sort of meditation, but instead of controlling your breath you’ll focus on your muscles. Starting at your toes, intentionally relax one set of muscles at a time, moving slowly up your body: calves, quads, abdomen, etc. When you reach your head, relax the muscles in your face, then work your way back down to your toes.
- Cognitive restructuring — This one is easier with a provider’s help, but it can be done on your own as well. Cognitive restructuring involves reframing negative thoughts, which means noting them when they come up, ‘catching’ them in your mind, and rewriting them to still be true while also being less catastrophic. For example, if your first thought is “she didn’t text me back because she’s angry with me,” you can reframe that as “she hasn’t gotten back to me yet and I don’t know why; that’s stressful, but it may have nothing to do with me.”
- Activity scheduling — Especially for anxiety sufferers, even the most basic tasks can feel monumental if we avoid them for long enough. They take on an impossible weight, and as time goes on they get harder and harder to do. Activity scheduling is one easy step forward: putting it on your calendar. It may seem simple, but taking the burden off your mind and putting it into your phone or onto a paper wall calendar can drastically reduce its enormity — and easing the stress of it makes you more likely to actually do it.
Those are just a few of the many strategies and techniques that make cognitive behavioral therapy so effective. There are other, more in-depth techniques that really call for a provider’s guidance and involvement — things like guided discovery, role-playing, graded exposure, and behavioral experiments.
One of the things that makes CBT uniquely successful in treating anxiety and depression is this element of concrete exercises and regular practice. When combined with the care and empathy of a great provider, these techniques have been proven to lead to a significant reduction in symptoms and a notable improvement in mood for many patients.
If you’re ready to try cognitive behavioral therapy, signing up with Youper is a great first step! Our caring providers will really listen to you and work with you to make a plan for using CBT to start feeling better, faster. Plus, our therapy chat is available to support you 24/7.