Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 40 million adults in America, making it the single most common form of mental illness.1 According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these conditions are quite treatable. Unfortunately, only a third of people coping with anxiety get professional help.2
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular line of treatment. If you or someone you know is considering getting help, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT, put simply, is psychotherapy or “talking to a trained psychotherapist” who can help you tune into how you’re feeling, help you understand what’s causing your anxiety, and help you work through steps to change how you feel about your situation.
The marked distinction here is that the therapy doesn’t attempt to actually change your situation. It assumes that your circumstances are a given. How you think can, however, impact how you feel and how you act.
In other words, you may not be able to actually change external factors, like the situation you are in or other people’s actions. But if you look at your problem closely and think it through, you may be able to overcome how you feel about it and deal with it better, sans anxiety.3
According to the National Health Services, UK, besides helping those with anxiety problems, CBT helps treating the following conditions:4
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Eating disorders (bulimia/anorexia)
- Panic disorder or any kind of phobias
- Chronic fatigue syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome in some cases
What Can You Expect In CBT?
Once you sign up with a therapist, you will need to commit time to the scheduled sessions. Typically, each session can run anywhere from half an hour to an hour.
On an average, according to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, a patient is prescribed 16 sessions. These sessions may be weekly or fortnightly. Unlike some forms of psychotherapy that last years (like psychoanalysis), CBT can help deal with the problem in a shorter and more limited duration of time.
In most cases, CBT sessions begin to show results in as little as 12 to 16 weeks.5
Things To Do
- At times, your therapist may assign you some “homework.” This may include things like consciously swapping negative thoughts with realistic expectations; you’ll be asked to practice this regularly.
- You may be asked to keep a journal of negative thoughts as and when they crop up.6
- You may be given books or other materials to read so you understand your condition better.
- You may be asked to fill out assessments as you go along for your therapist to gauge progress.
- After an initial assessment, your therapist will chalk out some goals for you, based on your inputs.
- During the sessions, your therapist will work with you to understand the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and your behavior. The aim of the process is to identify any unhealthy thought patterns that could be leading to self-destructive beliefs or behavior.
- You will work with your therapist to spot such negative and false beliefs and, subsequently, try and change these beliefs. If successful, you will emerge with the skills to think more constructively. You’ll also have beliefs and behaviors that are healthier than before.
So how does it actually work? Your therapist will simplify a problem by breaking it into five parts, so it doesn’t seem so insurmountable anymore. You’ll typically look at it as a sum of these five areas:7
- Situation: the problem/difficult situation/worrying event
- Physical feelings
CBT In A Sample Scenario
Sometimes, the event may be a simple trigger that would easily be ignored by someone who doesn’t have an anxiety issue. For instance, the trigger could be your boss assigning a task to a colleague instead of you, though you both volunteered to help. This could lead to negative thoughts that you aren’t good enough, that your boss doesn’t like you, or that your colleagues haven’t got your back, and so on.
What Would The Response Be?
You are sad and you feel low because you’ve been rejected. You may experience physical pain as a result of this, which could be a headache, stomachache, nausea, or even breathlessness. Your actions after this may then be to not volunteer the next time, to take a sick day from work, or avoid your colleague or boss.
How Does CBT Help Here?
In such a scenario, with CBT, you’ll learn to be realistic about your situation. You may realize that your colleague has less on his/her plate at the moment. Or perhaps you are needed for something else. Or maybe his/her skills were better for this particular situation than yours.
Without the anxious feelings or physical symptoms, your mind will be clear. Your actions will then take shape accordingly: you may be able to check with the other person and let them know that you’re there to help with any doubts in your area of expertise. Or you may just be at peace and carry on with your own work.
Can Natural Remedies Help With Anxiety?
According to experts, anxiety disorders need to be dealt with holistically. That’s because, like with other mental illnesses, anxiety disorders are a consequence of interplay between not just psychological factors but social, genetic, environmental, and biological factors as well.8 You may therefore wish to supplement your CBT sessions with some traditional remedies aimed at anxiety alleviation.
Remember, these are suggested in addition to your primary treatment, be it CBT or something else recommended by your doctor.
1. Bergamot Essential Oil
Aromatherapy using bergamot essential oil is said to have anxiety-alleviating benefits. The oil, a known anxiolytic, helps modulate the release of neurotransmitters in your body, easing the symptoms.9
2. Ayurvedic Remedies
A popular Ayurvedic herbal remedy, ashwagandha is, among other things, an adaptogen that can help your body modulate stress response. The herb has been recommended for anxiety as well as depression.10
Besides this, Ayurveda also suggests consuming a drink made from serotonin- and tryptophan-boosting milk and almonds, and calming honey. These combine to regulate your mood better so you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Do keep your specialist or doctor in the loop if you plan to use these remedies.
3. Tai Chi And Yoga
According to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, tai chi and yoga are a good choice thanks to their calming effect and the endorphin and mood boost they give you.11 However, these on their own may not be a permanent solution, so view them as supplementary therapy.12
4. Chamomile And Chrysanthemum Teas
These teas contain the flavonoid apigenin, known for its anti-anxiety properties. Animal studies have proven its anxiolytic effects.13 So brew yourself a cuppa and sit back and relax even on days where you aren’t meeting your therapist for a CBT session.
|↑1||Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults. National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑2||Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.|
|↑3||What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?. National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.|
|↑4||Cognitive behavioural therapy. NHS.|
|↑5||Therapy. Anxiety and Depression Association of America.|
|↑6||Psychotherapy. National Alliance of Mental Illness.|
|↑7||Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Royal College of Psychiatrists.|
|↑8||Moran, Mark. “Brain, gene discoveries drive new concept of mental illness.” Psychiatric News 46, no. 12 (2011): 1.|
|↑9||Marino, A., I. Paterniti, M. Cordaro, R. Morabito, M. Campolo, M. Navarra, E. Esposito, and S. Cuzzocrea. “Role of natural antioxidants and potential use of bergamot in treating rheumatoid arthritis.” PharmaNutrition 3, no. 2 (2015): 53-59.|
|↑10||Umadevi, M. “Traditional and medicinal uses of Withania somnifera.” The Pharma Innovation 1, no. 9 (2012).|
|↑11||Mind and Body Approaches for Stress. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health.|
|↑12||Ravindran, Arun V., and Tricia L. da Silva. “Complementary and alternative therapies as add-on to pharmacotherapy for mood and anxiety disorders: a systematic review.” Journal of Affective Disorders 150, no. 3 (2013): 707-719.|
|↑13||Hong, Sa-Ik, Seung-Hwan Kwon, Min-Jung Kim, Shi-Xun Ma, Je-Won Kwon, Seung-Min Choi, Soo-Im Choi, Sun-Yeou Kim, Seok-Yong Lee, and Choon-Gon Jang. “Anxiolytic-like effects of Chrysanthemum indicum aqueous extract in mice: possible involvement of GABAA receptors and 5-HT1A receptors.” Biomolecules & therapeutics 20, no. 4 (2012): 413.|