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Treating Anxiety with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

Treating Anxiety with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

When dealing with simple forms of anxiety where the trigger is clearly identifiable, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments I have found.

Most simple anxiety problems can be summarised in a diagram similar to the one opposite. The trigger is the situation or event that sets off the feelings of anxiety or fear - it might be a an aminal, or a feeling of being trapped, or the way another person is behaving.

Once the anxiety is triggered we tend to do something to reduce it - this is called a safety behaviour. There are many types of safety behaviours - examples include avoiding the feared situation, seeking reassurance, distracting ourselves, using cigarettes, drugs or alcohol to calm ourselves, and performing rituals to calm ourselves.

The safety behaviour brings short-term relief, but in the long term it usually brings another set of problems. For example avoiding the trigger might make us feel better temporarily, but avoidance can lead to not going out, not being able to get a job, not making friends - life becomes very restricted and limited.

In the diagram the small arrows indicate how the problem is maintained - the short term relief that comes from a safety behaviour makes it more likely that we will keep doing the safety behaviour, the safety behaviour itself tends to cause the anxiety to seem worse, and fear itself makes us more vigilant, so more likely to react to triggers.

CBT treatment addresses the way the problem is maintained, because without these feedback loops the anxiety reduces of it's own accord. This is often done through exposure techniques that involve reducing the safety behaviours.

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