Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety disorder may affect brain activity and volume. In the study, Swedish researchers evaluated the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy in treating anxiety disorders and examined how it affects brain activity and volume.
Patients’ brains were scanned using MRI pre- and post-treatment. In patients with social anxiety disorder, brain volume and activity decreased in the amygdala due to the internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy.
Study lead Kristoffer NT Månsson said, “The greater the improvement we saw in the patients, the smaller the size of their amygdala. The study also suggests that the reduction in volume drives the reduction in brain activity.”
The study consisted of 26 participants who were treated with internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy over the course of nine weeks. “Although we didn’t look at that many patients, this work provides some important knowledge – especially for all the sufferers. Several studies have reported that certain areas of the brain differ between patients with and without anxiety disorders. We’ve shown that the patients can improve in nine weeks – and that this leads to structural differences in their brains,” added Kristoffer NT Månsson.
The research team is now conducting larger studies in hopes to develop more effective treatments.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has long been used to treat social anxiety disorder. It is a form of therapy that examines a patient’s negative thoughts and how they relate to the bouts of anxiety. The therapy also offers tools and mechanisms in order to cope with such thoughts and to better handle the situations that may trigger anxiety attacks.
The CBT is based on the premise that our emotions – not the situation – control and regulate how we feel. It is a person’s perception of what’s going on that contributes to their anxiety. Changing one’s thoughts and feelings can lead to changing their behavior as well.
The CBT methodology works as follows. A patient first identifies their negative thoughts. This can be done by asking yourself in the moment, what triggered the thoughts. For example, if you do not like germs, did someone try to shake your hand, or did you have to touch something that you find disgusting?
Once the negative thought is identified, the patient will work on challenging the thought. A therapist will help the patient question the evidence of the thought, analyze unhelpful beliefs, and test out the negative prediction.
Lastly, the final step is to replace negative thoughts with realistic ones. The new thoughts are often more positive and accurate, compared to the original negative ones. A therapist can help the patient put together calming statements to help coach them through this phase or to prepare for approaching a negative situation. This can help reduce the ever-climbing anxiety and stop it from becoming a full-blown attack.
Other parts of CBT include recognizing the signs and symptoms of an upcoming anxiety attack in your body, learning coping and relaxation skills, and confronting your fears.
Whether you have anxiety, a phobia, or even some modes of depression, cognitive behavioral therapy has been the only form of therapy to be shown to not only help reduce such mental disorders, but help people overcome their conditions.
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