Gain Control and Improve Productivity with CBT
In your head, you know that you’ll be on time for work, so why is your heart racing as you prepare to leave the house? You know that you’ll have a fun time at your friends’ weekly game night, but why, upon thinking about it, are your palms sweaty? Common activities can easily trigger anxiety, sometimes manageable and other times overwhelming. The emergent field of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps sufferers of mental roadblocks learn ways to cope with and, eventually, eliminate these issues.
Behind the Scenes: CBT is about Retraining your Survival Instinct
Mental health professionals who use CBT understand anxiety as a natural survival response rather than as an illness. As a function of the body’s response to threatening stimuli (be they situations or thoughts), anxiety arises from chemical reactions designed to help prepare the body to deal with something it perceives to be dangerous. In other words, the response is totally normal. The only problem is that sometimes the body gets it wrong leading to anxiety in common situations in daily life. Fortunately, the nervous system hacks are surprisingly (or perhaps fittingly) rudimentary. Any of the following can help you normalize when stress and anxiety linger:
- Talking slowly and calmly
- Breathing deeply
- Opening your body posture
- Releasing body tension
- Even chewing gum!
By adopting these behaviors when anxiety starts, the body can alter its fear response system thus reducing the amount of anxiety felt. In this way, thoughts produce actions, which in turn affect emotional output. That is the crux of cognitive behavioral therapy.
How Does CBT Work
In psychology, there is evidence that an individual’s actions, emotions, thoughts and physical health are interconnected in such a way that changing one will affect the other. Because thoughts and actions are the easiest to change, mental health professionals like to start there. CBT aims to help the client identify and minimize unhealthy thinking, which will then lead to healthier actions, emotions and overall health. Through careful analysis, CBT aims to break down issues that feel overwhelming into smaller parts—thoughts, emotions and actions—in order to make them more manageable. This technique has been proven to help combat anxiety, insomnia and even helps those who have difficulties weaning off alcohol or substance usage.
This hands-on approach teaches problem-solving skills with specific goals in mind by providing practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis. For those looking for ways to cope or mitigate anxiety, for example, CBT works in the following ways:
- You will learn coping skills: These skills will leave you prepared to confront anxiety-inducing situations rather than avoiding them
- Your behaviors will change: By learning to overcome your tendency to avoid certain situations, you can build mental strength, which will help you to address your roadblocks head-on
- You will gain increased productivity: By clearing away negative reactions and anxiety related time loss you’ll be able to concentrate on daily achievements.
- You’ll solve life’s problems: With the skills learned in sessions with a therapist, you can learn and practice new approaches to dealing with problems that more carefully consider your emotional well-being
- Commitment is minimal: You can learn these skills in short, 50-minute sessions
Sessions can be one-on-one or in group settings, but require a skilled therapist who can help individuals develop their own plans for overcoming their mental health hurdles. Depending on the person, somewhere between 5 and 20 sessions typically help a client feel more equipped to take on their anxiety.
What to Expect During a CBT Session
In your first session, you and your therapist will work to specify treatment by identifying segments of your mental health that you would like to improve. Whether you want to get your anxiety under control or to do away with time hampering reactionary behavior, each following session will be structured with your specific goal in mind. Each session will then focus on breaking down these seemingly daunting issues into smaller parts allowing them to be addressed piece by piece.
CBT Isn’t for Everyone
CBT can be highly effective for those hoping to cope with and overcome daily struggles with high-strung behavior, insomnia or even substance dependency. But it’s not for everyone. A more intense level of treatment or therapy may be necessary for those suffering from more severe mental illness.
If You’d Like to Learn More About CBT:
- BBC Radio 4 podcast, “All in the Mind” about CBT
- Clinical psychologist, Alice Boyes, talks about CBT
- An in-depth overview of CBT
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