Anxiety Treatment: Benefits Of CBT For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety is a feeling that many may experience from time to time when dealing with the stressors of everyday life. For some, however, it can escalate into a significant mental health disorder that negatively impacts daily functioning and requires professional treatment to address. Examples of such anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.

It’s estimated that approximately 30% of adults in the US will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. According to the National Institutes of Health, anxiety disorders are also prevalent across the globe. Though they are common, treating anxiety disorders is possible—typically through psychological and pharmacological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety and/or medication.

Rawpixel
Cognitive behavioral therapy can make anxiety more manageable

What does anxiety look like?

Anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people, but an individual will usually experience one or more of the following symptoms with a condition like generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Uncontrollable worrying that causes distress and impacts daily life

  • Inability to let go of worries

  • Persistent negative thoughts

  • Feeling restless or on edge

  • Physical symptoms, including feeling easily fatigued

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Experiencing muscle tension

Note that although generalized anxiety disorder is common, there are other types of anxiety disorders a person may experience. These include phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety. Each of these has a unique set of symptoms, though any may also include the symptoms listed above. If you’re experiencing signs of any mental health disorder, the best course of action is to be evaluated by a mental health professional for an official diagnosis.

The CBT approach to treating anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety is a type of talk therapy that focuses on analyzing the thought processes and internal dialogues behind a person's symptoms as well as the behaviors they exhibit in response to stressful stimuli. CBT is a clinically proven therapy treatment that can be used to effectively manage anxiety disorders.

CBT is in many ways considered to be the “gold standard” of psychotherapy, in part because of decades of rigorous clinical neuroscience research that has involved randomized placebo controlled trials and behavioral experiments. A randomized controlled trial is a method of testing a psychotherapy’s efficacy with parameters around participation that clearly demonstrate the difference a certain treatment has or has not made by controlling for other variables, such as participant characteristics. 

With anxiety disorder cognitive behavioral therapy, a mental health professional can help an individual bring awareness to unhealthy or flawed thought patterns and help them understand how those may provoke their anxiety, a process known as cognitive processing therapy or cognitive restructuring. Over time, the individual may be able to change their perception of certain events, which can help them experience fewer symptoms of anxiety. The therapist can also address any harmful behaviors that may occur as a result of an anxiety disorder, such as avoidance behaviors, and support the individual in finding healthier coping mechanisms, a psychological treatment often referred to as behavior therapy.

The common, effective techniques of CBT for anxiety

While some techniques for cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety can be practiced on your own, seeking treatment from a qualified professional is recommended if you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition like an anxiety disorder. 

Regularly practicing cognitive therapy techniques, especially with the support of a therapist, can help a person rewire negative thought patterns, learn positive coping strategies, and treat anxiety disorders. Here are a few common cognitive behavioral treatments for managing anxiety that a therapist may encourage the practice of during or between sessions:

Journaling

If you’re not aware of negative thought patterns, it’s nearly impossible to shift them. That’s why CBT for anxiety typically focuses on awareness of one’s patterns as a key initial component of treatment. Journaling can be one way to help an individual learn to recognize these. One study found that “journaling and written emotional expression [was] effective on anxiety and stress scores” for participants in a particular trial.

Identifying cognitive distortions

Many people with adult anxiety disorders are prone to cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are, as the name suggests, distorted patterns of thinking that tend to fall into one of several identifiable categories. Examples of these distortions include jumping to conclusions, black-and-white thinking (all good or all bad), believing yourself to be the source of most problems around you, immediately assuming the worst-case scenario in a situation, and always having to be right. Learning to identify cognitive distortions as you experience them and then shifting to a healthier, more realistic perspective is another common component of CBT for anxiety, one that can be particularly helpful in reducing social anxiety symptoms. 

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is another technique a therapist may encourage for an individual experiencing anxiety. Mindfulness is simply the cultivation of a mindset of awareness. Awareness of one’s thoughts and the feelings and behaviors they trigger is a key component of cognitive treatments. Mindfulness techniques can include deep breathing or guided meditations such as applied relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation. Over 200 studies have identified a correlation between regular mindfulness practice and decreased symptoms of anxiety. 

Getty/AnnaStills

Engaging in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR)

In certain cases, a therapist may perform EMDR on someone experiencing specific types of anxiety disorders related to trauma, such as chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Note that only a qualified professional should perform this type of treatment. The therapy itself involves inducing rapid, back-and-forth eye movements while guiding a client through a type of exposure therapy that relies on them imagining distressing events or circumstances. The goal of EMDR is to diminish the links between certain negative thought processes and their corresponding symptoms and behaviors. This desensitization can be a key factor in resolving anxiety and panic attacks.

How to connect with a cognitive behavioral therapist

Again, while some CBT techniques can be practiced on your own, it’s usually best to seek out the support of a trained professional for guidance in navigating a mental health condition. If you’d be more comfortable meeting with a therapist in person or if you’re experiencing severe symptoms, you can search for qualified cognitive behavioral therapy providers in your local area.

That said, some people who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety may find that the prospect of traveling to an office to meet with a provider induces additional anxiety. In this case, virtual therapy is an option to consider. It may also be helpful for those who live in rural areas, have physical disabilities that make it difficult to leave the house, or simply have a busy schedule or prefer to engage in therapy from the comfort of home.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Cognitive behavioral therapy can make anxiety more manageable

With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can fill out a brief questionnaire about your needs and preferences and get matched with a licensed therapist in a matter of days. You can then speak with them via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you’ve been facing. Research suggests that online CBT can be effective in the treatment of anxiety and other mental health concerns. One meta-analysis found that online CBT was effective for anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Takeaway

Anxiety disorders can present significant challenges, but there are effective treatments available, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common treatments for a variety of anxiety disorders. This form of therapy can often help people identify negative thoughts and beliefs, which may then lead to the development of more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. With a cognitive behavioral therapist, you may learn about resources and skills for managing anxiety-inducing situations. These skills may include emotional control, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy at this time, you might consider online therapy sessions. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience treating anxiety with CBT. Take the first step toward relief from anxiety and reach out to BetterHelp today.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started