I have been struggling with my claustrophobia since I don’t know when and I’m sharing this blog to enlighten others who are suffering from phobia and anxiety themselves. I know you all heard about cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. You may have heard that it’s one of the most effective therapies to help cure depression, stress, panic, and other mental health conditions.
But here’s something new that I learned from my favorite therapist – CBT may not be all about changing thought patterns but changing the one’s feelings first. According to him, it is much easier, and it will have a more significant impact to change one’s feelings than to change his thoughts because strong emotions come before the thoughts. Here are three simple yet effective CBT strategies that are based on this principle, which have tremendously helped me manage my fear and anxiety.
Focus First On Changing The Feelings. My therapist often reminds me that emotions are versatile and that they change. This means that no matter how I try to learn how to relax and be calm and I would begin to feel anxious again, she wants me to think about my emotions once I start to feel okay again. It helped me when I wrote down my expected emotions. “Cognitive behavioral therapy, often shortened to CBT, focuses on recognizing negative thought patterns and changing thoughts and behaviors and feelings through concrete skills.” Hannah Goodman, LMHC said.
For instance, if you’re about to give a presentation, it would be useful to write down how you feel right then and there, and then how you think you would feel once you try to relax. Something like, “I feel anxious right now, but this is natural. Once I focus on changing how I feel, I’ll be relaxed, and I can think clearly.”
Sometimes in the middle of the presentation, you might notice that you’re talking faster than usual. Think about calming down and feeling confident about yourself. When you’re done with your presentation, you might as well write down how you felt so you’ll know what positive emotions you can replace the negative ones with.
Act As Normal As You Can. Fact is, anxiety is a survival strategy, not a condition officially. Melissa Berschauer LMFT elaborates that “Anxiety can be downright scary when the symptoms take on bodily sensations. Some people have many physical symptoms and do not realize that what they are experiencing is anxiety.” However, it is a strategy that can often go wrong if not used effectively, which is why it can become a negative symptom rather than something that can be helpful. But you can train yourself to use anxiety positively. For example, when it arises during an important interview or speaking engagement, you can talk to it and say, “Sorry, you can’t get to me right now. I don’t need you.”
We can think about how we behave when we’re NOT nervous or anxious. Under normal circumstances, we talk softly, smile to people, breathe slowly and deeply, and keep our head up high in confidence. If we think of doing one of these behaviors when we are anxious or stressed, the negative emotions may eventually disappear.
Additionally, one normal thing that happens when we are relaxed is we salivate. So what can we do so we salivate when we’re anxious? Chewing gum is a great solution. If you noticed when you’re chewing gum, you kind of feel laid back, if this works for you, then maybe you can do it once in a while.
Change The Negative Assumptions To Positive, Hopeful Ones. I used to get anxious when I go to any kind of party – small or big. It’s because I had so many bad assumptions about what was going to happen if I do attend parties. I have fears about having to meet new people. I fear that:
- People won’t like me
- I’ll feel bad about something they’ll say
- I’ll feel inadequate and be more insecure
- I might blame myself for going in the first place
I told my therapist about this, and she taught me this powerful strategy that tremendously reduced my anxieties. She instructed me to ask the question, “How do I deal with these fears” and find positive answers that were hopeful, including:
- I’ll enjoy the night instead of just eating or watching crap on television and feel so alone
- I might meet new friends
- Some people may not like me, but I’m sure some will
- I may meet someone more terrible than me in handing his fears, and I might be able to help him
Describing my fears and creating a breakdown of the positive things that might happen has effectively decreased my anxiety and stress levels. I guess listening to Jo Eckler, PsyD‘s advice when he said, “Look at negative thoughts like reruns of a TV show you’ve seen a million times. Let them play in the background while you shift your focus to something else.” is a great deal for me.
The takeaway here is that anxiety, fear, and the whole gamut of negative emotions are changeable, and you make that change by trying to do these simple strategies. You’ll realize that you can survive – and thrive – in any environment you are into.