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CBT Exercises for Anxiety

By Amy Morin ; Updated August 14, 2017

Cognitive behavioral therapy provides an evidence-based approach to treating anxiety disorders that include generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. CBT assists people in changing their thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate symptoms of anxiety. Participants learn how to engage in gradual-exposure exercises that require they face anxiety-provoking situations one step at a time. Gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations reduces symptoms of anxiety over time.

Identify and Rate Fears

CBT therapists help people learn to recognize their fears. These may include specific phobias such as a fears of snakes, heights or public speaking. A person may also experience more generalized feelings of anxiety in generic settings or feelings of anxiety without any obvious trigger. CBT therapists help people to assign a rating to their fears to help determine what order to address them.

Exposure Exercises

In order to avoid feeling anxious, people often avoid anxiety-provoking situations. Therapists conduct exposure exercises gradually, using small steps to help people reduce their feelings of anxiety. For example, a person afraid of public speaking might start exposure with imagining herself giving a speech to a small group of people. Next she gives a short speech to two people and slowly works her way up to giving a speech to a larger group of people.

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Identifying and Replacing Cognitive Distortions

CBT helps clients recognize their anxious thoughts. Anxiety often causes distorted thoughts that lead people to imagine horrible outcomes of various scenarios. People tend to underestimate their ability to tolerate feeling anxious. By recognizing and replacing your distorted thoughts with more realistic thoughts, you can experience decreased anxiety. CBT participants also learn how to stop ruminating on thoughts that cause anxiety by distracting themselves with activities that interrupt their thought patterns.

Relaxation Skills

CBT assists people in recognizing physical symptoms associated with anxiety. These may include headaches, stomach aches, rapid heartbeat, sweating and dizziness. Relaxation techniques teach CBT participants skills to calm their bodies when feeling anxious. These techniques may include guided imagery in which the participant learns to imagine peaceful scenes. Progressive muscle relaxation helps him to relax isolated muscle groups. Breathing techniques slow heartrate and help participants to re-focus their energy.

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