Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Exercises For Anxiety
“Keep It Simple”
I like to watch the television series NCIS.
Abby is their computer tech wonder girl, but she tends toward long winded explanations.
When Gibbs, the lead investigator, hears her going into her details, he’ll interrupt with something like, “Just tell it to me straight.”
I’m like Gibbs.
When I have a complicated feeling anxiety, I want answers.
I need things to be simple.
Forget long and detailed information.
Just tell me something to do.
Maybe you’re like me.
If so, I’m going to share 5 simple (but important) cognitive behavioral exercises for anxiety that will reduce your stress.
1. Cognitive Behavior Exercise: Relaxation
When we’re anxious, our minds and bodies operate on vigilant mode.
Action Step: Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair and listen to the following 2 guided meditation pratices (from my article Mindfulness Meditation: 20 Things Scientists Know To Be True. If you are a Christian, make sure you read this article so that you can understand a Christian viewpoint on meditation)
Audio: Listen to 2 guided meditation practices from our podcast series
A 3-Minute Body Scan to Cultivate Mindfulness
A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation for Beginners
2. Cognitive Behavioral Exercise for Anxiety: Exercise?!
Scientific Benefits of Exercise To Reduce Anxiety and Stress
A research article called Effects of Exercise on Anxiety, Depression and Mood found that:
The meta-analyses of correlational and experimental studies reveal positive effects of exercise, in healthy people and in clinical populations (also in patients with emotional disorders) regardless of gender and age.
The most improvements are caused by rhythmic, aerobic exercises, using of large muscle groups (jogging, swimming, cycling, walking), of moderate and low intensity. They should be conducted for 15 to 30 minutes and performed a minimum of three times a week in programs of 10-weeks or longer.
How To Get Started Exercising (Even If You Don’t Want To)
- Check out the Couch to 5K Running Program at Cool Running. Also, see if you can find a free Couch to 5K App in the iTunes or Google Play stores.
- Check out Healthline’s Beginners Guide to Working Out.
- Do you have a couple of friends who’d like to join you? I know of a group of women in the neighborhood who walk 365 days a year through rain, shine, and snow! They enjoy talking together and exercising together.
- That’s all I’ve got for now, but you get the point – there are many ways to get started.
3. Get To Know Your Self-Talk
We’re always thinking.
It’s just that we don’t always think about our thinking.
Action Step: Take a Worry Break and Write
Pay attention to the sorts of things you are thinking about.
Buy a journal or notebook and give yourself a “worry break” each day to write down what you’re worried about.
Don’t judget your thougts, just write them all down.
Research has found that we anxious people often tend to focus on threats or danger.
Consequently, we may find ourselves thinking about the worst possible scenarios, predicting that they’ll happen, and then worrying about them.
An Extra Action Step: Cognitive Focused Self-Talk Intervention for Reducing Anxiety
Here’s a very helpful worksheet from Cognitive Self-Help.
In this worksheet, for example, I an write a Situation in the first column.
“I made a mistake at work and gave wrong information to a customer”
In the next column, I write my emotions, and rate their intensity 0-100%
Anxious 50 , Ashamed 60 , Scared 80
The next column is where I write down any unhelpful thoughts or images.
“I’ll get fired”
I have an image of being walked out of my office by my supervisor.
Alternative/More Balanced Thoughts
One mistake does not spell ruin.
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
What could I do/What Is the Best Response/Action
You can also read an article I wrote a few years back, still applicable today, called Warning: Worrying May Be Good For Your Career.
4. Face Your Fears
Short term comfort equals long term pain.
Short term pain equals long term gain.
That’s the thought behind exposure therapy.
As Dr. Grohol points out in his article, exposure therapy is safely facing the most feared aspects of your life.
For general anxiety that has not yet become posttraumatic stress, a phobia, or social anxiety, the principle behind exposure therapy can help you and me.
Tim Ferris, in his article titled, “Productivity Tips for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)” wrote that he lists three things to accomplish each day.
I’m going to include steps 3-8 of his 8 step process for planning his day.
3) Write down the 3-5 things — and no more — that are making you most anxious or uncomfortable. They’re often things that have been punted from one day’s to-do list to the next, to the next, to the next, and so on. Most important usually = most uncomfortable, with some chance of rejection or conflict.
4) For each item, ask yourself:
– “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”
– “Will moving this forward make all the other to-do’s unimportant or easier to knock off later?”
5) Look only at the items you’ve answered “yes” to for at least one of these questions.
6) Block out at 2-3 hours to focus on ONE of them for today. Let the rest of the urgent but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow.
7) TO BE CLEAR: Block out at 2-3 HOURS to focus on ONE of them for today. This is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work.
8) If you get distracted or start procrastinating, don’t freak out and downward spiral; just gently come back to your ONE to-do.Learn To Express Feelings
source: Tim Ferris, Productivity Tips for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)
The feeling you get from conquering your fear will be relief, self-confidence, and decreased anxiety.
5. Learn To Express Your Feelings
In the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Dr. Bourne writes that phobic and anxiety-prone people have a tendency to suppress their feelings.
This may be because:
- we often have a strong need for control or we have a fear of losing control. If we start acknowledging our feelings we may feel like we’re “going crazy”
- often you and I, if we’re prone to anxiety, wev’ve grown up in families with overly critical parents, or we were high performers in other areas of our lives and did not feel free to express our feelings
- Learn to be okay with what you’re feeling by writing morning pages.
- Learn to recognize signs of suppressed feelings: these may include free floating anxiety, depression, psychosomatic symptoms (like headahces, ulcers, high blood pressure, and asthma), and muscle tension.
- Tune in to your body. You can download Calm.com on your iPhone or Android phone and go through the free 7 day course on Learning to Meditate as a way to become comfortable with how you’re feeling.
- Learn the vocabulary of feeling, or expand your current ‘feeling’ vocabulary. Here’s a list of feelings from the Center for Non Violent Communication to help you out.
Just Pick One of These Cognitive Behavioral Exercises for Anxiety!
A little snowball can become an avalanche.
Just practicing one of these small exercises on a regular basis can create an avalanche of positive momentum in your life!
Get started today!
If you are, considering cognitive behavioral therapy or anxiety therapy, please contact me for a free 15-minute consultation.
Steve Borgman, LCPC, is a cognitive behavioral therapist and currently owns a private practice in Barrington, IL. To find out more about Steve, check Counseling and Psychotherapy in Barrington, IL.
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Helpful Thinking from Anxiety Canada