Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Cognitive Behavioral Skills You'll Need to Beat Anxiety

Five essential skills for overcoming anxiety and getting on with a happy life.

1. The ability to tolerate uncertainty.

Studies have shown that intolerance of uncertainty is a key factor in anxiety and depression. People who can't tolerate uncertainty often avoid situations, procrastinate, seek reassurance constantly, delay taking action, do excessive checking, and refuse to delegate.

2. The ability to recognize rumination.

Rumination is when you're repeatedly bothered by a worry thought. When people ruminate, their problem solving capacity is reduced. If you're ruminating, it's often best to wait to attempt to problem solve until you can think about the issue without jumping straight into rumination mode.

If you can learn to recognize when you're ruminating, you can use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, defusion techniques, or mindfulness techniques to help you stop ruminating.

The best thing you can do when you're ruminating is accept that you're having whatever thoughts you're having, recognize that the thoughts might not be accurate, and allow the thoughts to pass in their own time rather than trying to block them out. Trying to block out distressing thoughts will just cause increased intensity and intrusions of the thoughts you're trying not to have.

3. The ability to recognize thought distortions.

Types of thought distortions include: making excessively negative predictions, underestimating your ability to cope, personalizing, mind reading, catastrophizing, "shoulds" and "musts," making judgments of yourself or others that are black and white rather than gray, entitlement thoughts (e.g., thinking that the normal rules shouldn't apply to you), and more.

The key is recognizing thought distortions is to ask yourself what thoughts you're having when you feel distressed. Some of these thoughts are likely to be thought distortions.

4. The ability and willingness to use mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness techniques can help reduce anxiety and increase willpower. Practicing mindfulness will help you stop avoidance coping, make better choices even when you're feeling anxious, and help you ruminate less. Try this 10-minute mindful walking exercise to get started.

5. The ability to talk to yourself kindly about your imperfections and mistakes.

Criticizing yourself harshly when you make a mistake or when one of your personal imperfections shows up is likely to lead to rumination and avoidance coping. Research has shown that talking to yourself kindly not only helps you feel better—it also increases your motivation for self-improvement.

Follow Alice on Twitter @DrAliceBoyes

More from Alice Boyes Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Alice Boyes Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today