Is Therapy Helpful For Reducing Anxiety?

Updated February 03, 2021

Is anxiety getting in the way of your health, prosperity, and peace of mind? You might be wondering if anyone can help you reduce your anxiety so you can feel calmer and face the challenges in your life. Although you might have heard that therapy is one solution for people with anxiety disorders, you might not know if it really works. Here’s how anxiety therapy works and what you can do to make it work even better for you.

How Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Helps


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological technique often used for anxiety disorders. It’s a technique that involves examining, evaluating, and changing negative thoughts. If you have an anxiety disorder, CBT offers an effective way to eliminate the thoughts that may be triggering your anxiety disorder.

How CBT Works

So, how does CBT work to decrease symptoms of anxiety disorders? The answer starts with the fact that symptoms of anxiety can come up when you have anxiety-provoking thoughts. You may be fully aware of these anxious thoughts. Or they may be automatic or subconscious thoughts hidden below the surface. A licensed therapist can help you recognize how these thoughts can contribute to your anxiety disorder.

Once you understand how anxiety disorders are related to thoughts, the next step in therapy is to identify the negative thoughts in your mind. This might take some time and effort, and you might need some help realizing the beliefs behind your fears. That’s why CBT is so helpful. Your counselor can use proven techniques to guide you as you uncover unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts. 

After you know the negative thoughts behind your symptoms, you need to evaluate whether they’re helpful and accurate. Your therapist will encourage you to challenge each belief so you can decide whether it’s worthwhile to keep thinking that way. Then, if you choose to change your thoughts, your therapist can help you explore new ways of thinking to replace the old beliefs that tend to increase symptoms of anxiety disorders. Evidence shows that CBT works. For example, neuroimaging studies involving brain scans show that CBT can actually create positive changes in the brains of people with anxiety disorders. 

Another facet of anxiety disorders is anxiety sensitivity. This term refers to a condition in which the physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as racing heart, sweating, and trembling, are believed to be disastrous to your physical health or even fatal. For example, a person living with anxiety sensitivity might mistake their anxiety-provoked racing heart for a heart attack. These are also thoughts you can challenge in therapy.

What The Research Says

The question is, does CBT really work? In countless studies, cognitive-behavioral therapy is shown to be effective in helping people with anxiety disorders. For example, one scientific review of a large number of research studies found that CBT produced better results than certain other types of therapy. In another research review project, scientists found that CBT showed significant effectiveness in helping people with anxiety disorders reduce their anxiety sensitivity.

Reducing Anxiety With Exposure Therapy

For some people with anxiety disorders, the greatest fear is that something devastating will happen that they’ve never experienced before. For example, you might fear that your spouse will die unexpectedly. Even though that has never happened in your life before, you might imagine how distressing it would be. Others with anxiety disorders are plagued by the thought that a traumatic experience that is now over will happen again. People who have survived assaults sometimes live in fear of another attack. Still, others fear that they won’t be able to withstand their anxiety symptoms if a traumatic experience happens again. Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that can help people with anxiety disorders ranging from PTSD to phobias to social anxiety.

How Exposure Therapy Works


In exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, you face the things you fear so you can see that you can survive and overcome your anxiety symptoms. It starts by brainstorming all the situations or objects you fear and ranking them in an anxiety hierarchy. Then, you face each fearful thing, starting from the least anxiety-arousing situation and moving up the ladder until you’ve encountered the most frightening thing on your list. You will only move at the pace you’re comfortable with. Your therapist can help you in each step of this process, from devising the hierarchy to facing your fears to reevaluating your thoughts about the feared objects or circumstances.

What The Research Says

Exposure therapy is highly effective, especially for anxiety disorders such as PTSD and social anxiety. One review of the scientific literature on exposure therapy found that exposure therapy was effective in treating Vietnam veterans with PTSD — and it was more useful than other types of treatments.

Using an anxiety hierarchy has proven effective in reducing anxiety disorder symptoms in social anxiety, as well. And, in addition to traditional exposure therapy, virtual reality exposure therapy has now been proven effective for people with a social anxiety disorder. One study from 2016 showed that both in-person and virtual exposure therapy were helpful for people with social anxiety disorder. A 2018 study also showed that virtual reality exposure, as well as in vivo and imaginal exposure, reduced social anxiety disorder symptoms.

Acceptance Therapy For Anxiety Disorders

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a relatively new form of therapy that helps people with anxiety disorders learn to accept unhelpful thoughts and feelings they can’t control. It also involves developing a commitment and taking action to live a life according to the values you’ve chosen.

Acceptance therapy is another treatment that has shown its effectiveness in scientific studies of anxiety disorder. It’s especially helpful for people who have generalized anxiety disorder, as shown in a small 2015 study. The participants learned to accept that the physical symptoms were only sensations, the negative thoughts were only thoughts, and they could face them to do what they needed to do. Another study found that people who didn’t improve after other treatments for generalized anxiety disorder did improve after acceptance and commitment therapy.

Do Relaxation Techniques Work?

Another thing you can learn in anxiety disorder therapy is how to use relaxation techniques to reduce your symptoms of anxiety. Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique (JPRT), also known as progressive relaxation, is a therapy for stress and anxiety that involves tightening and relaxing each muscle group in your body in a systematic sequence.


Your counselor may also teach you breathing techniques for managing your symptoms if you have an anxiety disorder. One of these techniques is simply deep, slow breathing. Other methods are more complex, such as the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) procedure, which is a yoga-based breathing technique.

What The Research Says

Several studies have indicated that learning and using relaxation techniques helps decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression. One study examined the efficacy of JPRT and found that it helped reduce symptoms for people with test anxiety. Another study explored the SKY breathing method and found that it, too, was helpful for both anxiety and depression symptoms.

How To Get The Most Out Of Therapy For Anxiety

As it turns out, many things that happen in therapy, including both psychotherapy and learning relaxation techniques, have proven value for people with anxiety disorders in general. But what about in your specific case? How well will anxiety disorder therapies work for you? There are several things you can do as you go through treatment to get the most benefit and reduce your anxiety symptoms more effectively.

Prioritize Therapy

Start by making therapy for your anxiety disorder a priority in your life. It’s easy to get distracted or discouraged, especially if you don’t see progress right away. But making time to attend therapy sessions is the most effective way to deal with your anxiety and get the results you want.

Prepare For Sessions

Before your first session and every session afterward, prepare yourself to engage fully in the work of therapy. Make sure you’re hydrated and not hungry when it’s time to begin. Try to get enough sleep the night before if you can. And, if you’re doing online therapy, find a quiet, comfortable, and private place for your session.

Show Your Authentic Self

It might be tempting to put up a brave front when you’re talking to your therapist. After all, many people feel embarrassed about their anxious feelings or the difficulty they have in coping with their symptoms of anxiety disorders. But if you let your authentic self show in each session, you can get to the root of your problems more efficiently.

Stay Open To New Ideas

Many people have a preconceived notion of what therapy is supposed to be like. But your therapist may use techniques and methods that are unfamiliar to you. Be willing to consider any treatments your counselor suggests. You may learn something that genuinely makes your life easier.

Learn About Your Anxiety Disorder

Your therapist might take some time in your sessions to teach you about anxiety disorders. Learning about anxiety disorder symptoms can help you identify issues you might not have noticed before. Learning about how treatments work — and have helped others — can give you hope and encouragement to stick with your treatment for anxiety disorders. And, when you learn about support resources, you can get additional help to overcome your symptoms of anxiety disorder.

Be Fully Engaged

Being fully engaged with your therapy means paying attention to what’s happening during sessions, listening carefully, and responding to suggestions. It also means making an effort to understand and put what you’ve learned into practice. Engagement is vital if you want to see improvement in your anxiety disorder.

Do The Homework


Your therapist might ask you to do homework between sessions. Your assignments might involve writing about your anxiety disorder symptoms. If your therapist is preparing you for exposure therapy, they might ask you to think about and write down situations that bring up anxious feelings. Or your homework might include changing behavior and reporting the results. Do each homework assignment before the next session if you can, so you can move on to the next phase of your treatment more surely.

Bring Up Questions And Concerns

You might have questions about what’s happening in therapy. Or you might be concerned that it isn’t going the way you had hoped. Trust your counselor with these questions and concerns. They can give you answers so you feel better about the process and have the understanding you need to get relief from your anxiety disorder symptoms.

Take Charge Of Your Mental Health

It’s also important to remember that you are the one in charge of your mental health. Your therapist is there to help and guide you. But you are the one who decides to do the things you need to do to deal with your anxiety disorder more effectively. And you are the only one who can follow through to achieve the best results.

Are You Ready To Find A Therapist?

Talking to a therapist who understands and treats anxiety disorders can be the first step in changing your life for the better. But how can you get started? There are several ways to get started.

You can find help from a local counseling center if there’s one in your area. Support groups for anxiety disorders like PTSD and social anxiety might be available in your community as well. You can also receive private online therapy via videoconferencing at BetterHelp. With online therapy, you choose the location that’s best for you because your counselor can connect with you anywhere you have internet access.

Dealing with anxiety disorders doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle. You can get the help you need to reduce anxiety and live a more satisfying, peaceful life. If you’re ready to make changes and overcome the symptoms of anxiety disorders, take the first step.

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