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CBT That You Can ACTUALLY Do Yourself

Anxiety is a constant battle, and the longer you struggle with it the more it wins. That is why treatment for anxiety is so important. The sooner you start treating your anxiety the sooner you can overcome it.

The most well known and effective treatment for anxiety, besides anxiety medication, is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is used by psychologists across the world, and research has shown it to be the most effective form of talk therapy currently available.

But CBT is also expensive. Psychologists charge a great deal for their services, and the therapy itself is time consuming and requires considerable travel – all of which cost time and money.

Luckily, there are some ways you can complete DIY CBT – CBT that you can do at home that can help you improve on your anxiety symptoms.

How Severe is Your Anxiety?

To determine which home anxiety treatments to use, you need to know how severe your anxiety is. Take our free 7 minute anxiety severity test to score your anxiety symptoms, compare it to others, and see at-home treatments.

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CBT At Home – Do It Yourself Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is not specifically designed to be conducted at home. Those that are looking for anxiety treatments designed for being completed at home should take the free 7 minute CalmClinic anxiety test and see what will work best for your anxiety.

However, just because CBT is not meant for the home doesn’t mean that you can’t take some of the ideas in CBT and use them in your own life. There are many components of CBT that you can integrate into your own life.

The Basics of CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on two core principles. The first is that the best way to see real change is to address both areas of a mental health issue:

  • Cognitive – The thoughts you have, how you think, etc.
  • Behavioral – How you act, and the patterns of behavior.

For example, when you have healthy anxiety, you may have cognitive issues (worry, overthinking, etc.) and behavioral issues (checking WebMD for symptoms, calling a friend, etc.). CBT would seek to challenge your negative thoughts so that you think more positively and in a more emotionally healthy way, as well as help you control those negative behaviors and seeking out new ones.

At Home Behavioral Treatments for Anxiety

Behavioral treatments for anxiety tend to be the easiest to implement at home, so we will start by evaluating some of the most effective behavioral treatments from CBT methodology.

Part of CBT involves identifying patterns of behavior that either:

  • Contribute to anxiety.
  • Prevent successful coping.

For example, let’s say when you have a panic attack, the first thing you do is run to the bathroom. You do this every time you have a panic attack. That pattern of “running away” may be contributing to your anxiety, as it provides a crutch that prevents you from dealing with your problems.

So the next time you have a panic attack, you force yourself to do something different. Perhaps you go for a walk, or replace this behavior with a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing. These behaviors are more calming, and this provide a positive behavioral change that can help you learn to relax in the long term.

Exposure – Another CBT Anxiety Strategy

Another strategy based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is known as “Exposure Therapy” or “Systematic Desensitization.” Many forms of anxiety are about fear. You may have a specific phobia, such as a fear of spiders, or you may have general anxiety, such as a fear that something bad will happen to you. With social anxiety, it may be the idea of going out in public.

Psychologists often use a behavioral therapy known as “exposure” to address these issues, and exposure is easily able to be completed in your own home. The idea is to slowly but consistently “desensitize” yourself to the fears over time, starting with something that is not quite as scary and ending with the fear itself. Studies have shown that the more exposure you have to something you fear without anything bad happening to you, the less you’ll fear it over time. This is also known as “Habituation.”

Although systematic desensitization can be used with nearly all forms of anxiety, the easiest way to explain the process is to use a phobia as an example. In this case, we’ll use Ophidiophobia, which is the fear of snakes.

  • First, find a calm and quiet environment where you can focus. Once there, close your eyes and spend a significant period of time thinking about snakes. Imagine coming across snakes by surprise, imagine snakes around you. Try to picture what the snakes are doing. If you have a strong fear of snakes this may cause some anxiety, but learn to calm yourself down. Over time your anxiety should decrease as you get used to it, and once you’ve stopped feeling anxiety for a significant period of time, you can let yourself relax, and you can be done for the day.
  • If the previous portion was difficult, it is advised that you do it again another day. Continue until you no longer feel anxiety when you think about snakes. When you’re ready, you can move on to the next step. The next step, you should have someone close to you print out a variety of snake photos. You should stare at each of these photos until you no longer feel anxiety.
  • Each time you should increase what you’re exposed to. Once you’re done with photos you can try YouTube videos (have a friend or loved one find you videos to watch – they should be informative, like snakes seen in the wild, and not just purposefully fear based videos). You can then move on to going to the zoo and visiting the snake exhibit, and even eventually touching a snake if you feel you are ready for it.

Throughout the process – whether it is snakes or social settings or some other fear – the idea is to continually expose yourself to greater fears until you have become “bored” of them when nothing happens. Over time you’ll find that you stop feeling as much anxiety.

Panic attacks can be a bit trickier, but they can also respond to DIY CBT. Those that experience panic attacks may not fear something external, but they often fear something internal. An example would be light headedness. The person may experience a lightheadedness, and that lightheadedness can ultimately trigger another panic attack. In these case, exposure may be to the sensation that is causing the panic.

For example, if you get panic attacks when you’re feeling a little dizzy, then you would twirl around in a chair over and over again until you get used to feeling dizzy. Since many panic attacks are caused by hyperventilation, some people hyperventilate on purpose (although this should not be done until you’ve consulted with your doctor) to get used to the sensations.

Psychoeducation

Those two behavioral CBT at home strategies can be very effective at reducing some of your anxiety. Psychoeducation is the first cognitive CBT strategy that is worth attempting, as it is also the easiest to do.

Often when we have anxiety, we focus only on what we have convinced ourselves, not necessarily the facts or “truth” in the world. Take spiders, for example. Over 33% of the country has a fear of spiders. Most are concerned that one wrong move and they may be bitten by a deadly spider.

But in the entire United States, spider deaths account for only 6 deaths per year, combined, and in those cases it is almost always someone that was already very sick (the elderly) or very young (a baby). It is almost never a healthy adult or teenager.

That means the risk of a spider-related death is very low. Yet if you ask someone that fears spiders about their chances of dying from a spider bite, they usually assume much higher. It is the same with rattlesnake deaths (5 people per year, almost always in self-defense caused by taunting under the influence of alcohol), shark deaths (1 per year), and wolves have killed only one person in the United States since 1893.

Arming yourself with knowledge can be immensely beneficial for combatting anxiety. It is not just the fear stimulus that helps either. Psychoeducation often involves learning:

  • About Anxiety and its Symptoms
  • About How Families Can Help Your Anxiety
  • About How the Brain Works

Anxiety is, by its very nature, a cognitive reaction. You’re responding to an environment in the way your brain thinks it is supposed to respond. It seems something (for example, a social situation) and feels danger, and so it reacts as if you’re in serious danger.

The more your brain “learns” the facts that it previously only “assumed” (such as the fact that social situations are not dangerous, or that anxiety is your brain responding to safe scenarios with fear, etc.), it can also learn not to react as strongly to those same situations.

Psychoeducation is easy to do at home using the internet, as long as you learn to look for reliable and educational sources.

Changing Your Thought Patterns

Another popular CBT strategy that is easy to do at home is to challenge anxiety thought patterns. Anxiety has a tendency to change the way you think. For example, if your child was supposed to call you and is 15 minutes late to call, anxiety may make you think “they’ve been hit by a bus or kidnapped,” which ultimately may cause you more anxiety in the future.

These are considered “negative thoughts,” because they are caused by anxiety and lead to more anxiety. They’re also often “irrational” – the likelihood of a child being hurt because they are 15 minutes late calling is very slim, just as the likelihood of a deadly spider bite, or the danger and damage caused by poor social interactions. CBT pushes you to challenge those negative thought patterns:

  • Create a list of each negative thought you have throughout the day.
  • Purposefully challenge those thoughts by determining the realistic likelihood that those thoughts will happen, based on your research or knowledge.
  • Replace those negative thoughts with realistic thoughts.

Let’s say you are struggling with social anxiety. You find yourself in a social situation, and you are instantly filled with thoughts such as “this person won’t like me” or “I’m going to embarrass myself.”

Challenge those thoughts. In this case, you can’t really challenge it with facts since it is subjective, but you can challenge it by rethinking the likely scenario:

  • She just met me. It is unlikely she is that judgmental.
  • Even if I embarrassed myself, who cares? Who is hurt?
  • I’ll probably be fine, we’re just talking.

Then, should you find yourself in similar scenarios, remind yourself of these more likely truths – that chances are the person is not judging you, and even if they are that you’re still going to be alive tomorrow and there are thousands of other people you can meet in the future.

These are just small examples of the many ways that you can challenge your thoughts in order to control your negative thinking, and one of the many tools from CBT that you can do at home with your anxiety.

Find Relief From Anxiety Symptoms

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective, successful way to fight anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues. While it helps to be with an expert that can guide you and keep you accountable, many of the strategies from CBT can be completed in the comfort of your own home.

As long as you are ready to dedicate yourself to the treatments and commit to them no matter what your anxiety or energy is telling you to do, CBT at home can often be a great way to start combatting anxiety and seeing a decrease in your overall stress levels. For more information about anxiety treatments that are effective at home, take my anxiety test today.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jul 23, 2018.

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