CBT for an anxiety disorder is daunting, scary, but most of all, rewarding.
At the time of my first session, I was just coming off the back of two years’ worth of unexplained anxiety.
While I’d been offered medication to ‘take the edge off’, I have a very analytical brain so I was intrigued by the process. While still terrified, I was kind of happy to be in a position where I could finally begin to understand my anxiety.
That said, taking the first step into therapy was incredibly daunting, and the thought of it petrified me.
What would I uncover? How would the life that I’ve always lived change? Was this going to hurt?
Ironically, the first therapy session made my anxiety worse than it had ever been!
Looking back, I had no need to be scared. While it was a tough, unfamiliar process, it did what it was supposed to. It played a massive part in me understanding my anxiety. It gave me strategies which I could put in place and help me live with anxiety.
It’s an out-of-the-norm experience so here are seven things I experienced in my first CBT for anxiety session
1)Meet and greet.
I didn’t know my counsellor when I went to my first session. She was a lovely lady, but I was instantly suspicious. I was very guarded, which was a personality trait for me back then, but, over the course of my ten sessions, she changed me as a person. I’ll be forever grateful to her.
She told me a bit about herself. She asked about my childhood (so cliché!), and she INSTANTLY started to unravel the spaghetti that my brain had turned into over the years. And the best bit, she did it all without me even realising.
2) My anxiety was given a rating.
Then she asked me some questions about my anxiety and lifestyle; I think it was a questionnaire. Just stuff like symptoms, duration, sleep habits, diet, exercise, that kind of thing. With a score of 100 being the most severe, and 0 being no anxiety at all, my result was 85. Suck on that, people who told me ‘there’s nothing wrong with me!’
3) The symptoms of an anxiety disorder were explained to me.
The results of my questionnaire confirmed that my anxiety was severe and it had, as suspected, taken over my life. This also meant that Generalised Anxiety Disorder would possibly always be a part of me.
She explained that I would have good times and bad times, it might go and come back, nobody knew. She also explained the reasons I may have been dealt the anxiety hand in the first place.
Anxiety can stem from trauma, stress, childhood, illness, addiction. There are so many reasons an anxiety disorder starts and no one can be pigeon holed on why they have it. That’s for the counselor and the patient to decide, no one else.
4) My breathing was monitored.
The next thing she did was check my breathing. At the age of 34-years-old, I had no idea how important breathing was! At that point, I was taking 34 breaths a minute.
I’ll never forget that number because I said ‘one for every year I’ve been alive’. I had no idea that this was almost three times as many breaths as I should be taking.
The more I’ve researched breathing, the more I understand how bad my breathing pattern at the time was for me both mentally and physically. Breathing is one of the vital signs, and according to Hopkins Medicine, a healthy adult at rest should take between 12 and 16 breaths a minute.
Consistently breathing much more than that and you risk hyperventilating which will, of course, lead to symptoms of anxiety.
5) I was made to relax.
Next, she talked me through a relaxation and deep breathing exercise. She also gave a strict warning that changing your breathing pattern needs to be monitored by a professional. While breathing slower is better for your body, changes in breathing can also lead to more anxiety. Under the observation of a medical professional, for the first time in two years, I slowed my breathing down
6) My counsellor found out about me.
So, feeling ever so slightly more relaxed and not freaked out by this woman who was the first person to have spoken my language in years, she then started to delve into more about me. Who I was where I’d come from, where I was going. I don’t feel that I gave too much information away at this stage but it lay the foundation for my course of treatment.
7)) Strategies were put in place for me to deal with anxiety when it hit.
It was made quite clear to me that you can’t stop anxiety immediately. Your brain gets into the habit of responding to triggers, and you must train your brain to act a new way which can be a lengthy process.
The first step of that process is to learn techniques to stop anxiety when it hits, and she gave some strategies straight away for that.
So that was my first lesson, and I have to say I came out of there feeling drained, but positive. The next six months for me were six of the biggest and most beneficial of my life, which all began with that one session.
If you’re thinking about cognitive behavioural therapy, I can tell you from my experience that it was the single best thing I’ve ever done.
Did I get better immediately? Definitely not! Was it easy? Hell no!
But what CBT did for me was teach me tactics to deal with anxiety, so it no longer defined me, it just became something that I had. It helped me understand who I was. But more importantly, why I was. It helped strengthen me as a person. Th stereotypical, lying on the couch and sharing my woes just didn’t happen. I was exhausted, but pleasantly hopeful…
Comment below, what are your experiences of CBT? Can you remember your first session?
If you want to know more about how I live with an anxiety disorder to live a life that’s happy, healthy, and fulfilled, buy the Freedom Reigns eBook and join the Anxiety Buddy community today!
Founder - Anxiety Buddy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Jo was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in 2014 and knows what it’s like to live with the crippling disorder and suffer in silence, She also knows how much easier anxiety is to manage when you connect with others and have a strong support network around you. Jo is committed to normalising anxiety and helping others understand their anxiety to reduce the impact it has on everyday life.