CBT centers on the idea that we can free ourselves from a lot of angst by becoming aware of our distorted view of situations, particularly stressful ones, and adjusting our behaviors accordingly. A 2012 review concluded that CBT can enlarge the prefrontal cortexthe part of the brain associated with weighing thoughts and making decisionsand reduce the size of the amygdala, the region associated with stress and fear. In another study of patients with social phobia that compared the effects of CBT and the antidepressant citalopram, both treatments triggered changes in the parts of the brain that help us process, and act upon, fears.
"Much of feeling anxious is that sense of urgency: I've got to knowis this mole cancer?" Leahy notes. "But research shows that 85 percent of things people worry about actually end up having a positive or neutral outcome." Write down exactly what's worrying you, then don't look at your note again for three or five hours. Chances are, it will feel less worrisome, and you'll be better able to consider productive actions, like scheduling a skin check at the derm.
Too often, anxieties swell to epic size: I'll never get out of debt! "Things feel more manageable when you remove worry's distortions," notes Tamar Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. Take it step by step instead: I can't pay off all the bills now, but I can chip away at them every month.
Write down or say out loud the ways you are prepared to handle a situation: I generally get things done. I know how to ask for help. Remind yourself how capable you are.
Imagine the issue from an outside perspective, Chansky suggests. What would your best friendor your favorite celebritysay? Conjure up that person's voice as they guide you to calm. George: Listen, woman, that CEO has a bark much bigger than his bite. You've totally got this. You: You are so right.
Mindfulness, an ancient practice that focuses your brain on the present, is as old as Buddha. But it's experiencing a surge of popularity; companies like Google and General Mills have mindfulness programs for employees. Like CBT, it conditions your mind to be more stress-resistant. In a 2012 study, students trained in a mindfulness technique had a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol and an increase in signaling connections (called axons) in a part of the brain that controls emotions.
2. How does the floor, mat, or chair feel? How's the temp in the room?
3. What are the sounds? Maybe an electrical appliance is humming, or trees outside are rustling.
4. Now tune into all these things at once.