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How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Can Help Manage Symptoms

Understand the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and its role in managing anxiety symptoms and improving mental health.

Table of Contents

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of intense unease, such as worry or fear. If your anxiety symptoms affect your daily life, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety can help you work through your symptoms and learn coping skills for the future.

It’s a normal part of life to feel anxious from time to time, especially when faced with stressful situations. However, some people find it hard to control their anxiety. This can affect their daily life and lead to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are common, affecting millions of people around the world. In the United States, about 1 in 5 adults experience an anxiety disorder each year.1

cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety can be caused by different things. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, meaning it runs in their family. Others may develop anxiety due to a traumatic event or stressful life situation.

The brain also plays a role in anxiety. Certain parts of the brain involved in fear and anxiety may function differently in people with anxiety disorders. Additionally, the body’s stress response can contribute to anxiety.

What Happens When You’re Anxious?

When you perceive a threat, your body releases hormones and chemicals to help you respond to it. This is known as the “fight-or-flight” response. If this response is triggered too often or stays in high gear for too long, it can lead to symptoms of anxiety.2

Over time, unmanaged anxiety can also lead to other mental health problems, such as depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety is one method that can help you manage your anxiety. It can help you understand the thoughts and behaviors that lead to anxiety.

Exploring Anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders. Each has specific symptoms, but all involve persistent and excessive worry or fear.

However, cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders, helping people manage their symptoms and lead more fulfilling lives.3

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD have frequent, excessive, and uncontrollable worry about many areas of life. This worry happens almost every day, lasts for at least six months, and makes it hard to carry out everyday tasks.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder involves recurring and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden surge of intense fear that reaches its peak within minutes.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, involves high levels of anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.


A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, or activity that is generally not harmful. People with phobias go to great lengths to avoid what they fear, even if it’s not dangerous.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by unwanted, intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors that the person feels driven to perform. For example, a person might be intensely fearful of germs and feel compelled to wash their hands over and over again.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. People with PTSD may have flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Symptoms and Effects of Anxiety

Anxiety can cause many physical symptoms. These can include a fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, or an upset stomach. It can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or faint. It can also cause you to sweat a lot, shake, or tremble.

Some people might have trouble sleeping, feel tired all the time, or have headaches. Physical symptoms are your body’s response to feeling stressed and anxious.

Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety can also affect your emotions and thoughts. You might feel a sense of doom or fear, or worry about a specific event or situation. You could also have intrusive thoughts or fears that you can’t control. It might be hard to concentrate or to stop worrying.

Impact of Anxiety on Daily Functioning

Anxiety can have a large impact on your daily life. It can make it hard to go to work, school, or social events. You might avoid places or situations that make you feel anxious. Anxiety can also affect your relationships with others.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety is a type of treatment that can help. It can teach you new ways to think about and react to situations that cause anxiety. This can help reduce your physical and emotional symptoms, and improve your daily functioning.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a kind of talk therapy. It is guided by a trained therapist and is designed to help people manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave.

The foundation of CBT lies in a few important principles. First, it acknowledges the strong connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If we can change one, the others may change as well.

What is the Foundation of CBT?

It also promotes active learning. CBT is not just about talking about your problems, it’s also about developing new skills and coping strategies in order to enact change. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety can be a powerful tool to help you take control of your anxiety symptoms.

How CBT Helps Alleviate Symptoms of Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety doesn’t just target symptoms. It addresses the root of the problem. This means that CBT can offer a long-term solution to managing anxiety. It’s not just about feeling better at the moment; it’s about learning skills you can carry into the future.

It can do this by:

Identifying and Challenging Negative Thought Patterns

Anxiety often comes with negative thoughts. In CBT, you learn to identify these thoughts. These thoughts might be about yourself, others, or the world. Once you know what these thoughts are, you can start to challenge them.

You ask yourself if these thoughts are true and if there’s evidence to support them. This process can help you to replace negative thoughts with more balanced ones.

Behavioral Experiments

Many people avoid things that make them anxious. However, this can make anxiety worse over time and may even affect your daily life.

In CBT, you might use behavioral experiments and exposure to face these fears. This means gradually and safely confronting the things you’re afraid of. Over time, this can reduce anxiety as you learn that your fears are often unfounded.

Developing Coping Strategies and Skills

CBT doesn’t just help you understand your anxiety, it also helps you manage it.

In CBT, you learn new skills and strategies. These can be things like deep breathing exercises or mindfulness techniques. These skills can be used in the moment when you’re feeling anxious to help calm your mind and body.

The Role of the Therapist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

In cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, the therapist is your guide. One of the first steps in CBT is building a relationship with the therapist. This is known as the therapeutic alliance.

You and your therapist work together to understand your anxiety. You share your thoughts, feelings, and fears. Your therapist listens and offers support. This relationship is a key part of the therapy process.

Guiding and Supporting the CBT Process

Your therapist is there to guide you through the CBT process. They can explain the concepts and techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety.

They also help you apply these techniques to your own life. This might involve helping you identify negative thought patterns or teaching you new coping strategies. Your therapist offers guidance and support every step of the way.

The therapist is also there to help you manage any difficulties that come up during therapy. If you’re finding a particular technique challenging, they can help you adjust it.

Effective Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Some common types of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety include:

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring refers to the process of identifying and changing negative thoughts. These negative thoughts may often fuel anxiety. You will learn to replace them with more balanced and positive thoughts.4

For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, rather than saying to yourself, “I’m going to mess up and everyone will laugh at me,” you can instead focus on the positive aspects of your presentation and remind yourself that everyone has been in the same situation at some point.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. In ERP, you are exposed to situations that make you anxious but are prevented from responding to anxiety-reducing behaviors. Over time, this helps to reduce your anxiety about these situations.

For example, if you have anxiety about being in crowded places, ERP therapy will gradually expose you to crowded environments, starting with situations that make you slightly anxious, and increasing the level of anxiety as you become more comfortable.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps you accept your anxious thoughts and feelings instead of trying to eliminate or control them.

In ACT, you will learn to observe your anxiety without letting it control your actions. For instance, you might notice that your heart is pounding and your palms are sweaty during a stressful situation. 

However, by focusing on the task at hand and accepting your symptoms, you can continue to complete your task.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT combines cognitive therapy techniques with mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness helps you pay attention to the present moment without judgment. During MBCT, you learn to observe your own thoughts and feelings without letting them control or overwhelm you.

For example, if you notice yourself having negative thinking patterns, such as worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, you learn to observe those thoughts without judging them.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches skills to manage anxiety. DBT includes strategies like emotion regulation and distress tolerance. This means you’ll learn to control your emotional responses and tolerate distressing situations without becoming overwhelmed.

For instance, if you’re feeling anxious, DBT will teach you techniques to calm down, such as deep breathing or distraction.

Tips for Maximizing the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety can be a powerful tool in managing the symptoms of anxiety. Here are some tips to maximize the benefits of CBT:

1. Practice Regularly

Just like learning a new instrument or language, the techniques you learn in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety become more effective with practice. You might find it helpful to set aside time each day for this.

2. Be Open and Honest

Share your thoughts, feelings, and fears openly with your therapist. This will help them understand you better and tailor the therapy to suit your needs.

It’s common to feel shy or embarrassed about some of the things you share, but remember that your therapist is there to help and not judge.

3. Use a Thought Journal

A thought journal can help you track your anxiety triggers and responses. By writing things down, you can better identify patterns and work on strategies to manage them.5

4. Patience is Key

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It may take several sessions before you start to notice improvements in your anxiety levels. Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged if progress seems slow.

5. Keep Regular Appointments

Consistency is important in therapy. Regular appointments ensure that you maintain momentum and continue to build on the skills you are learning. If life gets in the way, make sure to contact your therapist and reschedule.

6. Embrace Self-Care

Make sure to treat yourself with kindness and care. Self-care can include activities such as exercise, getting enough sleep, spending time outdoors, or doing something that brings you joy. These activities can help to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

7. Stay Engaged Outside of Sessions

Therapy doesn’t end when the session does. Try to apply what you learn in your sessions to your everyday life. Some therapists will assign “homework” to work on in between sessions. This can make the skills you’re learning more relevant and helpful.

8. Get Support

Don’t hesitate to lean on family and friends. Sharing your experiences and progress can provide additional emotional support and understanding as you go through cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety.

Timeline for Results: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety often takes about 12 to 20 sessions. Each session lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. Typically, sessions happen once a week.

So, it may take about three to five months to complete the therapy. This gives you time to learn and apply new skills to manage your anxiety.

Factors Affecting the Speed of Progress in CBT for Anxiety

Many factors can affect how fast you progress in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. These include how severe your anxiety is, how long you’ve had anxiety, and how often you practice the skills you learn in therapy.

Your relationship with your therapist can also affect progress. A strong, trust-based relationship with your therapist can speed up progress.

Achieving Sustainable Long-Term Results

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety is to give you skills that you can use for the rest of your life. After you complete the therapy, you will continue to use these skills when you face anxious situations.

The more you practice these skills, the better you become at managing your anxiety. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you never forget. But if you stop practicing, you might need a little time to get back to where you were.

Boardwalk Recovery's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Programs

Boardwalk Recovery helps people struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. Our focus is on teaching you the knowledge and skills needed for successful recovery and healing from anxiety.

Tailored Treatment Plans for Anxiety Disorders

At Boardwalk Recovery, every treatment plan is custom-made to fit your needs. This means you get a plan that matches your specific anxiety symptoms and challenges.

The initial consultation includes an evaluation and assessment to determine the best approach to addressing your anxiety.

Expert Therapists and Evidence-Based Approaches

Boardwalk Recovery employs expert therapists trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. Our therapists use methods that are backed by scientific research. 

Holistic Approach to Mental Wellness

Boardwalk Recovery doesn’t just focus on your anxiety. We also look at your whole well-being, including physical health, relationships, and lifestyle.

This means you can get help in all areas of your life, not just your anxiety.

Additional Resources and Support

After you finish your treatment at Boardwalk Recovery, we don’t leave you to cope alone.

We provide extra resources and support to help you maintain your progress. 

Get in touch with us today to start your journey of healing from anxiety.
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