Self-Help for Anxiety Course

In this self-help course for anxiety, we’ll learn how to reduce anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness approaches. We’ll cover general topics such as how to manage behaviours, thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations associated to anxiety. And we’ll also look at specific topics such as how to worry less, and how to cope with and reduce panic and panic attacks, with more to come later. And there are also some breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and guided relaxation exercises and meditations that can help calm anxiety.

The following video outlines a number of the anxiety-reduction strategies will be looking at in more detail throughout this course:

How to Manage Anxiety

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube and formatted by ChatGPT.

I asked ChatGPT to make a self-help video about anxiety, and I was pretty impressed with the result.

The first step in managing anxiety is to recognize our thoughts and beliefs that trigger it. These thoughts and beliefs are often negative and unrealistic, and they contribute to the anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches us to challenge these negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.

Now, I don’t really like the term “positive thoughts,” so I asked for some clarification. Positive thinking alone is not a cure for anxiety. Furthermore, simply telling yourself to think positively can actually be unhelpful and even harmful in some cases because it can lead to a sense of pressure or failure if you’re unable to just think positively. It’s more important to recognize that negative thoughts are a normal part of the human experience and that it’s okay to feel anxious or worried at times.

The goal of therapy isn’t to eliminate all negative thoughts or emotions. It’s not about forcing yourself to think positively, but about developing a more balanced and realistic way of thinking, which can ultimately lead to greater emotional well-being.

So, here are some examples of common negative thoughts we might have if we’re feeling anxious and how we can try to modify them:

“This is going to be a disaster. I can’t handle it if things go wrong.” Instead of catastrophizing, try to take a more balanced and realistic approach by reminding ourselves that things rarely go as badly as we imagine they will. We can also try to focus on what we can do to prepare for potential challenges, rather than dwelling on worst-case scenarios. For example, “I’m feeling anxious about this situation, but I’ve handled difficult situations before, and I have coping skills to rely on if needed. I can take things one step at a time and come up with a plan to manage any challenges that arise.”

“If I don’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure.” All-or-nothing thinking can be very black and white and can lead to feelings of pressure and self-criticism. Instead, try to acknowledge that there is a range of possibilities between perfect and failure. “I don’t need to be perfect in order to succeed. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process, and I can use them as opportunities to grow and improve. I can be proud of myself for doing my best and taking action.” I have a whole video that addresses all-or-nothing thinking that I’ll link to in the description.

“I know they’re judging me. They probably think I’m incompetent.” Mind-reading can be very anxiety-provoking because it’s based on assumptions rather than facts. It’s important to challenge these assumptions by reminding ourselves that we don’t actually know what other people are thinking or feeling and that there may be other factors influencing their behavior. “I’m feeling self-conscious in this situation, but I don’t actually know what other people are thinking. It’s possible that they’re focused on their own concerns or that they have positive opinions of me that I’m not aware of. I can try to focus on the present moment and on being myself rather than worrying about others’ opinions.”

“I always mess things up. I can never do anything right.” Overgeneralization involves making sweeping statements about ourselves based on a single negative experience or very limited data. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt. It’s important to challenge these thoughts by recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and that one negative experience doesn’t define us as a person. “I’ve had some setbacks in the past, but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable or incompetent. I can learn from my mistakes and use them to become stronger and more resilient. I’ve also had many successes and accomplishments that demonstrate my capabilities.

They canceled our plans. It must be because they don’t like me. Personalization involves taking things personally and assuming that other people’s behavior is the direct reflection of our worth as a person. We can challenge this by recognizing that other people’s behavior is often influenced by factors outside of our control and it’s not always about us. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like me or that I did something wrong. These are all examples of cognitive distortions and I have a whole video that covers these and other cognitive distortions in more detail.

In this process of changing and modifying our negative thoughts is called cognitive restructuring and it’s one of the main strategies in cognitive behavioral therapy. I have a number of videos about how to do cognitive restructuring that I’ll link to in the description. Then, I ask about one of the common challenges with cognitive restructuring. What if I don’t actually believe these modified thoughts or I think that they’re wrong?

It’s common to feel skeptical or doubtful of positive or modified thoughts, especially if you’re used to thinking negatively. This can be especially true when you’re feeling anxious, since anxiety can make it harder to see things in a more balanced or realistic way. The goal of modifying negative thoughts is not necessarily to eliminate negative thoughts altogether, but rather to shift the balance towards more positive and helpful thoughts.

Even if you don’t fully believe the modified thoughts at first, it’s important to keep practicing them and reinforcing them over time, which can help gradually change your thinking patterns and reduce the impact of negative thoughts. Mindfulness is also an effective technique for managing anxiety, and instead of changing or modifying our negative thoughts like we do in CBT, we simply notice our thoughts.

We become aware of them as they arise and just observe them without having to do anything about them. When we don’t judge our thoughts as good or bad or positive or negative, because thoughts aren’t inherently good or bad or positive or negative, they’re just thoughts. We just let them be whatever and however they are. Just because we’re having a thought doesn’t mean we have to do anything about it. We can have thoughts without reacting to them.

In fact, it’s our reactions to our thoughts that often cause us anxiety. We react to a thought, and that leads to another thought and then another and another, each new thought making us more anxious, and eventually, our minds are racing with anxiety. But when we’re being mindful of our thoughts, we’re not reacting to them, not getting caught up in them. We can just let our thoughts come and go, just watching them as if they were clouds passing through the sky and simply noticing them as they pass into and through and out of our awareness.

Or, instead of focusing on the content of our thoughts, we can simply label them. For example, as thinking or worrying, or we can add the qualifier “just” to our thoughts. “I’m just thinking,” “just worrying,” just obsessing about why they haven’t gotten back to me yet.” Labeling and using the word “just” helps take away some of the power our thoughts have over us and gives us some distance from our thoughts, which helps us observe them more objectively. It makes them easier to let go before we get caught up in them and they start causing us anxiety.

Now let’s look at behavior.

People with anxiety tend to engage in specific behaviors that can make their symptoms worse. If we don’t take steps to mitigate these behaviors, they can create a vicious cycle that makes us even more anxious. For example, avoidance is a common behavior associated with anxiety. But the more we avoid things that make us anxious, the more anxious they make us. So, instead of avoidance, it can be helpful to take small steps to gradually expose ourselves to the situation. For example, if we have social anxiety, we might start by attending a social gathering for just a few minutes. Once we start to feel comfortable with that, we can start gradually increasing how much time we spend in that type of situation. This is known as exposure therapy, and there are a couple of ways we can practice exposure that I’ll talk about in detail in a video I have coming out soon.

We might also engage in compulsive behaviors, such as checking and rechecking things like the stove, door locks, or our phones. In general, the more we check, the greater our anxiety becomes. And once we start to reduce how much we’re checking, we’ll usually start to experience a reduction in anxiety as well. So, it can be helpful for us to set limits and boundaries for ourselves. For example, we might set a specific time of day to check our phones or limit the number of times we check them.

Over planning is often common. We might obsess over details, creating multiple to-do lists, planning our days to the minute, or rehearsing a conversation in our heads over and over. But this leads to a vicious cycle. The more we plan and try to control every aspect of our lives, the more things we find we need to plan for and try to control, which creates even more anxiety. And when we can’t control something, we start feeling even more anxious.

If we find ourselves over planning and obsessing over details, it can be helpful to practice mindfulness and stay in the present moment. We might try mindfulness practices like deep breathing or meditation, or going for a mindful walk. Or just focus on the task at hand and do it mindfully, staying in the present moment without getting lost in worries about the future.

We often experience anxiety in our bodies through physical symptoms or unpleasant or uncomfortable body sensations, such as a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, or tightness in our throats or chests. These sensations can be uncomfortable and at times even feel intolerable, but they’re not dangerous, and there are strategies we can use to help manage them. One way is with deep breathing. By taking slow, deep breaths, we can slow down our heart rates and help ourselves feel more relaxed. And slowing down our breathing calms our sympathetic nervous systems, which are responsible for the fight-or-flight response that can lead us to feel panicky.

Mindfulness techniques can also be helpful for managing body sensations. By focusing on the present moment and becoming more aware of what’s going on in our bodies, we can learn to accept these symptoms and sensations and respond to them without getting caught up in them in ways that lead to worries or fear. So, instead of reacting to these sensations, we can simply breathe with them, using our in-breath to bring our attention here as we inhale, allowing the sensation to just be however it is. And then we imagine our breath exhaling out of this sensation, so breathing into the sensation and then breathing out of the sensation, and seeing if it begins to soften or relax as we exhale. The three-minute breathing space is a great way to practice this.

Another way to manage Body Sensations is through physical activity. Going for a walk, doing some yoga, or engaging in other forms of exercise can help release tension and calm our bodies down.

What if these symptoms and Sensations are so strong, I can’t believe they’re just a result of anxiety? When we’re experiencing intense physical Sensations, it can be hard to believe that they’re just a result of anxiety. However, it’s important to remember that anxiety can cause a wide range of physical symptoms, and that these symptoms aren’t harmful or dangerous. In fact, anxiety is a very common experience and many people struggle with similar physical Sensations.

So with just a few prompts, Chat GPT did a great job identifying and explaining the best strategies to reduce anxiety. And I go into more depth about most of these topics in the videos I link to in the description and in my free self-help for anxiety course at selfhelptoons.com. So please check those out.

CBT for Anxiety

Anxious Man

In CBT for anxiety we focus on how thoughts and behaviors contribute to anxiety, and learn strategies to modify our thoughts and behavior in ways that reduce anxiety. Cognitive restructuring is the primary CBT technique for changing thoughts related to anxiety. We either modify our anxious thoughts and worries, or replace them with new, less anxious thoughts.

The main behavioral intervention in CBT for anxiety is exposure. With exposure therapy we gradually allow ourselves to experience things that make us anxious in order to help us feel more comfortable with them. And as a result they make us less anxious, so we reduce our anxiety. We’ll also learn a CBT technique to help decrease worrying, by postponing worrying until a set “worry period” later in the day.

Mindfulness for Anxiety

Mindfulness of Anxiety

Mindfulness approaches to treating anxiety emphasize accepting our anxious thoughts and feelings, rather than fighting against them. When we try to fight with our anxiety, our anxiety tends to fight back. But when we learn to accept these uncomfortable anxious thoughts and feelings, our anxiety loses some of its intensity. Acceptance can be a difficult concept to grasp, and we’ll look at how to and why we practice acceptance in some detail in later posts.

A common symptom of anxiety is a racing mind, filled with anxious thoughts and worries, that won’t slow down. With mindfulness approaches to treating anxiety, rather than changing our thoughts as we do in CBT, we simply observe our thoughts, without allowing ourselves to get caught up in them. Once we become aware of worries or anxious thoughts, we simply accept them, without trying to change them, and then let them go.

Mindfulness is also a great way to respond to the emotional component of anxiety. We’ll look at how to be mindful of our emotions and accept however we’re feeling. And since panic and anxiety are usually associated with physiological or physical symptoms and sensations, we’ll learn how mindfulness can help us accept, and as a result, calm the sensations of anxiety we feel in our bodies.