Anxiety, in its many forms, can exert significant control over our lives, leading to profound unhappiness and suffering. However, at Mind Your Future, our commitment goes beyond merely alleviating symptoms of anxiety; we aim to help individuals understand the root causes for long-lasting results.
Anxiety can be an unyielding companion, dictating the terms of our lives relentlessly. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) stands out as a proven and effective treatment for anxiety. In this article, I will elaborate on how CBT can liberate you from the grip of anxiety and share some common CBT techniques.
Let’s start with an introduction to CBT (Cognitive behavioural Therapy). CBT is a therapeutic approach designed to help individuals break free from negative thinking and behaviour patterns, ultimately leading to improvements in their emotional well-being. The effectiveness of this approach lies in extensive research showing that our thoughts influence our feelings, which, in turn, shape our behaviour. When someone becomes ensnared in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviours, it often results in a surge of negative emotions, including anxiety.
Now, why does this phenomenon occur? What triggers people to become ensnared in these negative thinking cycles? This is a fascinating aspect that warrants a deeper understanding, especially considering that even in 2023, anxiety remains largely misunderstood.
Negative thoughts aren’t consciously chosen; you may observe that they intrude into your mind uninvited. This can be exceptionally challenging for individuals. Unfortunately, we can’t simply switch these thoughts off at will. However, we must hold onto the belief that, although we cannot control our thoughts, we can control our reactions to them. This power always remains within our grasp. When we refrain from giving our thoughts undue attention and avoid attaching meaning to them, they lose their capacity to alter our emotional state. Admittedly, this can be a challenging task at the outset, which is precisely why CBT proves highly effective, as it equips individuals with techniques to achieve this level of control.
So, where do our thoughts originate, and why do some individuals have a higher frequency of negative thoughts while others do not? The answer to this lies in our fears and negative beliefs. Our minds are intricately designed, serving a crucial role in protecting us from potential threats. As we accumulate experiences throughout our lives, we develop fears and beliefs. These become ingrained in our subconscious mind, which then assumes the responsibility of reminding us about these experiences and the need to exercise caution.
Allow me to provide a simple example: Imagine someone is bitten by a dog during childhood; as a result, they develop a fear of dogs. Whenever they encounter a dog, their brain automatically triggers a thought that the dog might bite them, prompting them to move out of harm’s way. In contrast, if someone had exclusively positive experiences with dogs while growing up and came across a dog, they would likely have thoughts centered around the dog’s cuteness and the desire to pet it.
This understanding helps shed light on the role our thoughts play in reminding us of our fears. However, our beliefs are equally influential in this process. By “beliefs,” I’m referring to the way our experiences leave lasting imprints in our subconscious, shaping our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world. For the purpose of this example, let’s focus on beliefs about ourselves.
If we undergo experiences during our formative years that consistently make us feel inadequate, unworthy, disliked, unloved, like failures, stupid, or weak—whatever the specifics may be—these experiences can embed a negative belief deep within our subconscious. Consequently, we start to genuinely believe that this negative perception of ourselves is true. It’s important to recognise that a negative belief functions much like a fear because our brain’s instinct is to protect us from harm, even if that harm is self-perceived.
For instance, if we faced frequent criticism during our childhood, we might develop a belief that we are not good enough. As adults, this belief translates into a fear of others perceiving us as inadequate. Consequently, our brain strives to protect us from this fear, leading to negative thoughts about what people think of us, self-doubt, and similar reactions.
But how does this protect us? Well, since our thoughts play a crucial role in the cycle of thoughts shaping feelings and ultimately influencing our behaviours, a troubling thought about our job performance not being good enough can trigger anxiety. In response, we might work longer hours or put in more effort than our peers to prove our competence. Essentially, this translates to the belief that if we work harder than others, people will perceive us as good enough. Does this make sense? Just like with the dog example, we get the thought the dog will bite us, so we run away!
This occurs because our brain doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what is perceived. It reacts to perceived threats in the same manner as actual threats. The issue with this is that our behaviours, driven by these beliefs, inadvertently exacerbate the problem over time. This reinforcement of negative beliefs contributes to the persistence of anxiety.
Certainly, not all anxiety is thought-driven; sometimes, people can transition from feeling fine one moment to experiencing anxiety the next due to their brain detecting a perceived threat in their environment. This trigger might be something that reminds them of a previous experience, and the discomfort of this feeling can set off a cycle of thoughts. What’s crucial is to understand what’s causing this reaction, as anxiety serves as a signal that something within us requires attention. The specific situations that trigger anxiety are often linked to the beliefs and fears we hold, making CBT a highly effective treatment for identifying and addressing these issues for long-lasting results.
For instance, individuals who believe they are worthy, good enough, likable, etc., typically won’t experience anxiety in those areas. Just like individuals who love dogs won’t have negative thoughts and won’t instinctively flee from them.
Now that we understand anxiety, let me share some of the CBT techniques that can support this:
Understanding the Meaning behind Our Thoughts
CBT is highly effective in assisting individuals in recognising thoughts associated with specific situations and subsequently uncovering their underlying meanings. This process enables us to pinpoint the areas that require attention in order to break free from anxiety.
Once these thoughts are identified, CBT equips you with the understanding of your thoughts and provides strategies to reframe and replace them. Changing our thoughts leads to changes in our life.
CBT can assist you in a manageable way to expose yourself to the things you are avoiding or struggling with. Over time, exposure to feared situations not only reduces fear but also helps shift our beliefs. The effectiveness of this approach lies in the fact that exposure allows us to gain new experiences that broaden our perception, ultimately revealing that these fears/beliefs are unfounded.
CBT offers numerous effective tools for shifting our beliefs. This is achieved through various methods, often involving perception-altering exercises and behavioural experiments.
CBT provides a range of techniques for managing symptoms, including breathing exercises, meditations, journaling, mindfulness tools, and more. However, the ultimate goal isn’t just symptom management in the long term; it’s to address the root cause. After all, we wouldn’t merely manage symptoms of a physical illness if there were a treatment plan for a cure, would we?
Anxiety is not something we are born with, or something we have to live with or manage. You can, with the right support, understand and free yourself from these feelings. At Mind Your Future, we believe in the effectiveness of CBT to help you get your life back. Please don’t let anxiety hold you back in life; CBT can transform your life. If you want to access support, take a look at our website, www.mindyourfuture.co.uk, where we offer a variety of packages accessible to all to help you start on this journey to freedom.