Anxiety is a normal part of everyone's life. However, when anxiety causes too much distress, it can become a barrier to productivity and happiness. Common forms of problematic anxiety include periods of feeling in danger or out of control (panic attacks), fears around interactions with others (social anxiety), persistent worries that get in the way of life goals or responsibilities (generalized anxiety), and phobias about specific items or situations (e.g. dogs, vomit, public speaking).
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly successful treatment for anxiety in adults, teens, and children. It begins by increasing an individual's awareness of false alarms in thinking, over-reactions in bodily sensations, and avoidance behaviors that disrupt day-to-day living. With increased awareness of anxious thoughts, sensations, and actions, individuals can begin to incorporate management strategies that promote balanced thinking, mindful reactions to bodily signals, and goal-influenced behaviors (as an alternative to anxiety-driven behaviors). Consistent practice of these management strategies allows individuals to pursue their life goals without anxiety as a barrier.
CBT for anxiety can be specially tailored to children and adolescents. First, children learn to better identify and understand their negative feelings. Next, they gain skills in balanced thinking by learning ways to challenge thoughts that lead to anxiety. If it seems useful, children will also learn skills in relaxation. As these initial skills are built, children become better prepared to face anxious situations. Once a child is prepared, treatment will target specific situations where anxiety gets in the way. In this phase of treatment, children practice facing their anxiety during in-session exercises that they learn to incorporate into life outside of session. As children gain confidence in facing anxious situations, their overall anxiety tends to fall. Throughout the treatment, parents are kept well informed of what the child is working on, and of how they can support the child between sessions.