CBT for health anxiety, or Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most popular therapies that doctors recommend for anxiety disorders. Studies have found it to be effective in dealing with a variety of conditions like phobias, panic disorder, GAD, and social anxiety disorder, etc.
The focus of Cognitive behavioral therapy is in addressing distortions and negative patterns in our outlook towards the world and its connection to us. The two main sections of CBT for health anxiety are:
Cognitive therapy: It investigates how negative cognitions or thoughts play a role in general anxiety occurrence.
Behavior therapy: It checks how patients react and behave in scenarios that set off anxiety. The basic tenet of Cognitive behavioral therapy is the fact that our thoughts influence our feelings, and not external events. It means that our feelings are not determined by the kind of situation that we are in; rather it is dependent on how we perceive a specific situation.
It is known that a single event can trigger varied emotions in different individuals. The reaction to an event is dependent on the attitudes, expectations, and beliefs of a person. People with health anxiety tend to think and perceive almost all situations negatively and this gives rise to fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
The aim of CBT for health anxiety and general anxiety is identification and correction of negative beliefs and thoughts. The idea behind this goal is that changes in our perception and manner of thinking can lead to changes in the way eventually feel about different situations, etc.
Cognitive reconstruction or thought challenging is a process which involves confronting negative patterns of thinking that trigger anxiety and replacing them with realistic and positive thoughts. The process involves the below listed 3 steps:
Identification of negative beliefs and thoughts: People with general anxiety perceive situations to be worse than normal. For example, germ phobia patients may not shake hands for fear of getting infected. We, including patients, all know such thoughts and fear to be irrational. But recognition of the fact that it is irrational can be very difficult. Therapists will offer a lot of options for patients to begin the process of identification and one such plan may involve asking patients about their thoughts when they began experiencing anxiety.
Challenging negative beliefs and thoughts: Patients need to examine the thoughts that provoke anxiety via methods like verification of evidentiary support for the fearful thoughts, analysis of incorrect beliefs, etc. Therapists may then list out strategies like performing experiments, understanding the advantages/disadvantages of worrying and avoiding events that cause fear, etc.
Replacement of negative thinking with reality: After successful identification of negative predictions and irrational distortions that make up the anxious beliefs and thoughts, patients are more capable of replacing them with more positive, accurate, and realistic new thoughts. The therapist will also provide assistance in the process with reassuring statements, different realistic and positive outcomes and approaches, etc. that a person with general anxiety can say, think, or do when anticipating or facing scenarios that trigger anxiety.
Other aspects of Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT for health anxiety may also involve challenging imaginary or real life fears; learning about anxiety and its effect on the body; and learning relaxation methods and coping techniques to overcome panic and anxiety.