CBT Tips for Calming Anxiety

A young woman is sitting and meditating in the street

Our brains are designed to help us be alert to danger and take appropriate action to avoid it. Good anxiety, sometimes called “eustress,” keeps you alert and ready to tackle new challenges such as when it focuses on a specific event with a concrete ending like a test at school or upcoming presentation. [1]

On the other hand, consistently high anxiety that causes you to feel like danger is everpresent is an uncomfortable experience that cripples your productivity and sense of peace.

From a cognitive perspective, anxiety distorts our thinking patterns and causes us to overestimate potential threats and their impact on our future.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of therapy for treating anxiety. It focuses on changing thought patterns to better align with realistic outcomes. Here are several techniques that can help you lower your anxiety.

Increase Your Mental Awareness

The first step in decreasing anxiety is to recognize that it is happening. Often, anxious thoughts offer a running commentary in the background of our lives.

  • “Things will not work out.”
  • “Everyone will think you are stupid.”
  • “The economy will never recover.”
  • “My partner is going to leave me.”

To change these anxious thoughts, you must first recognize them. You can do this is by labeling them for what they are. Instead of ruminating over the idea of “I’m going to lose my job” and feeling more anxious, stop and say out loud, “I’m aware of the thought, “I’m going to lose my job.” The key to this is using the phrase, “I’m aware of the thought.” This simple technique helps create distance between you and the thought, which decreases anxiety and provides a greater sense of control.

Make Things More Specific

Anxious thoughts are often broad and absolute such as “I’m going to get sick” or “I don’t know how to talk with people.” Thoughts like these may have some basis in reality, but are unhelpful and create more anxiety because they are so broad. Challenge these thoughts and make them more specific: “I may get sick, but I can do things to help minimize that risk” and “In some situations, I struggle with knowing what to say to people.”

Recognize Your Resilience

lady glad she is dealing with AnxietyResearch shows that people with anxiety often overestimate the damage of potential adverse outcomes. [2] This means that even if the things we fear do happen, the impact they have on our lives is not as devastating as our imagination.

Remind yourself that you can overcome and survive tough situations. It might even be helpful to recall the difficulties you have overcome in the past and how you overcame them.

Putting it All Together

Let’s combine these three techniques to challenge an anxious thought. Here’s an example; Brian is struggling with anxiety related to how the economy might impact his job security. The belief that keeps him awake at night is, “In this economy, my boss is sure to lay me off, and I’ll never find another job.”

If he were to use cognitive techniques to challenge this anxiety, he might follow these steps:

  1. State out loud, “I’m aware of the thought that ‘In this economy, my boss is sure to lay me off, and I’ll never find another job.’ This is just a thought, not my reality right now.”
  2. Make it more specific, “This is a tough economy, and I don’t know how this will affect our company. It’s possible that I could be laid off. It is also true is that I don’t know what decisions my boss will make. I can’t predict the future. He may save money in some other way.”
  3. Recognize resilience, “I don’t know what will happen; however, I can survive and focus on being a good employee.”

Be aware of your thoughts, distance yourself from them by recognizing them for what they are (just thoughts), and anchor yourself to more specific and controllable outcomes that are within your power to change.


1. Carmichael, C. (2017, September 12). Eustress: the Stress You Actually Need. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2017-09-12/eustress-the-stress-you-actually-need

2. Hengen, M., K., Alpers, & W., G. (2019, July 3). What’s the Risk? Fearful Individuals Generally Overestimate Negative Outcomes and They Dread Outcomes of Specific Events. Retrieved March 28, 2020, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01676/full

About the Author:

Travis StewartTravis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes a special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Travis’ website is wtravisstewart.com

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 16, 2020
Published April 16, 2020, on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.