Cheat Sheet

Managing Anxiety with CBT For Dummies (UK Edition)

From Managing Anxiety with CBT For Dummies by Graham C. Davey, Kate Cavanagh, Fergal Jones, Lydia Turner, Adrian Whittington

If you feel that your life is controlled by anxiety, or simply want to try to stop worrying all the time, this Cheat Sheet can help. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a powerful technique for managing your anxiety and getting on with living your life to the full. Here are a few key tips to get you started.

Differentiating between Normal and Troublesome Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal and, in fact, helpful emotion. Everyone experiences it sometimes. At the right level anxiety can help you to focus and perform well. But it can become a problem if it persists beyond its usefulness in a situation.

Remember the following points about anxiety:

  • Anxiety is a normal process that everyone experiences, but it can cause problems when it persists or becomes excessive.

  • Anxiety causes body sensations such as faster breath, an increase in heart rate, sweating, and feelings of dizziness, among many others. Bodily sensations caused by anxiety can’t harm you.

  • Anxiety can lead to you overestimating the risk of danger and underestimating your ability to cope.

  • Things that you might do because you think they keep you safe (safety behaviours) sometimes make your anxiety worse.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy can help reduce your anxiety by helping you re-evaluate your thoughts and changing your behaviour.

In its most troublesome forms, anxiety can lead to:

  • A debilitating fear of or desire to avoid some specific object or event that doesn’t pose a significant danger to you.

  • Regular but unpredictable panic attacks where you experience palpitations, sweating, trembling, dizziness and feelings of losing control.

  • Chronic, distressing and uncontrollable bouts of worrying.

  • Regular intrusive or obsessive thoughts that you find disturbing.

  • Compulsive or ritualistic behaviours that you believe are necessary to prevent you from feeling anxious or to help you avoid bad things happening.

Tackling Anxiety by Facing Your Fears and Letting Go of Worry

Set yourself some clear goals for tackling your anxiety and improving your life. Then use the methods suggested here to move forward towards your goals.

Facing your fears

One of the best ways to tackle anxiety is to face your fears. This is especially so for phobias or fears of specific events, situations or items. Over time you’ll find that most fears start to reduce over time, the more you put yourself into the fearful situations.

  1. Divide your fear into a hierarchy and write down steps to tackle it, with the least scary step at the bottom (looking at a picture of a spider, for example), and the scariest at the top (picking up a spider).

  2. Make sure you take each step in order and don’t move onto the next step until you’re sure you’ve mastered the previous one.

  3. Be frequent and repetitive. Keep practising each step as often as possible until you’ve cracked it.

  4. Keep going even if you feel anxious to start with and give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve each step.

Finding out if your fears are fact or fiction

When you feel anxious you tend to overestimate how dangerous or threatening a situation is. You can help reduce anxiety by looking at the facts to see what the real level of threat is, and then test out whether your fear really does come true.

  1. Consider what you think is the worst that could happen. Perhaps this is a picture in your mind of the disaster that you fear.

  2. Now collect facts. How likely is the disaster really? How awful would it be? How would you cope in reality?

  3. If you can, design experiments to test whether the disaster really does happen. This means giving up doing things that you normally do to try to prevent the disaster – see what happens!

Letting go of worry

Do you keep chewing over ‘what if?’ questions without reaching any helpful conclusion? Try to let go of worry rather than be ruled by it, fight it or argue with it.

  • Don’t be fooled into thinking worry is helpful. Turn worrying into problem-solving whenever you can. Consider what you need to do now to tackle a problem rather than all the possible outcomes.

  • Accept that you have to live with some uncertainty – you usually can’t be absolutely sure about what’s going to happen in the future.

  • Let go of worries by noticing them but not engaging in an argument or fighting with them. Pay attention to something more useful to you right now!

Recognising and Breaking Anxiety Rules

Everyone uses rules and assumptions to get by in daily life. These rules and assumptions offer a mental shortcut, saving time and effort in dealing with day-to-day situations.

Many rules and assumptions are helpful (for example, look both ways before crossing the road; ask if you want to borrow something from someone), but with anxiety you may have unhelpful, unrealistic or rigid rules that underpin anxious thoughts and feelings (such as, I should never make mistakes; I am responsible for everyone’s safety and happiness).

You can find your own anxiety rules by listing the last few times you’ve felt anxious. What were your thoughts at each of those times? Are there any similarities or patterns to your thoughts that suggest a common theme? What rule might underpin these experiences?

For example, when if you often feel anxious because you imagine other people being disappointed with you because what you’ve done isn’t good enough, the rule might be ‘everything I do must be to the very highest standard’.

Common rules associated with anxiety are focused on perfectionist standards of achievement and being in control. Learning to break your anxiety rules can help you to understand and overcome your anxiety for good.

Track Your Progress with CBT for Anxiety

When tackling your anxiety, keep track of your progress, and reward yourself regularly for your achievements. Keep a journal of your Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) practice to track the approaches you’ve tried and how they turned out. Doing so can help you to identify what works for you, and what doesn’t.

Don’t worry if some approaches for tackling your anxiety don’t seem to work – you can learn a great deal both from your successes and the things that challenge you.

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