10 Best Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Exercises for Anxiety Relief

cognitive behavioural therapy exercises for anxiety

Anxiety can be a crippling condition that affects many people. While many treatments are available, cognitive behavioural therapy exercise is the most effective.

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours to reduce anxiety. This article will explore the 10 best cognitive behavioural therapy exercises for anxiety relief.

Table of Contents

Understanding Anxiety

Before we dive into the exercises, it’s important to understand anxiety and how it affects us. Anxiety is a natural response to stress and danger.

It’s our body’s way of preparing for a threat. However, anxiety can interfere with our daily lives when it becomes excessive or irrational.

Types of Anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including;

  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • specific phobias

Each type of anxiety has its own set of symptoms and triggers.

Causes of Anxiety

Various factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences, can cause anxiety. Understanding the root cause of your stress can help you develop more effective coping strategies.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy that identifies and modifies negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours that cause or worsen anxiety.

It is a collaborative process between the therapist and the patient, and it involves teaching patients skills and techniques to manage their stress.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the idea that stress is not caused by external events but by the patient’s interpretation.

How effective is cognitive behavioural therapy in treating anxiety?

CBT is highly effective in treating anxiety, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness. CBT is considered the gold standard in treating anxiety disorders.

A meta-analysis of 70 studies found CBT was more effective than medication, and its effects lasted longer. CBT has also effectively treated other mental health conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Importance of incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy exercises into anxiety relief strategies

While CBT is effective independently, it is even more effective when combined with other anxiety relief strategies.

Incorporating CBT exercises into anxiety relief strategies can help patients to manage their anxiety better and to prevent future anxiety attacks.

CBT exercises can also help patients to develop a greater sense of control over their thoughts and emotions, which can help to reduce anxiety.

10 Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Exercises for Anxiety Relief

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a goal-oriented therapy that helps people identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones. Here are some of the best cognitive behavioural therapy exercises for anxiety relief.

1. Thought Records

  • A thought record is a tool to identify and challenge negative thought patterns.
  • To create a thought record, write down a situation that triggered your anxiety, your thoughts in response, and the resulting feelings and behaviours.
  • Then, challenge each negative view with evidence that contradicts it.

2. Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the things that trigger your anxiety. It can help you learn to tolerate anxiety-provoking situations and reduce your overall anxiety levels. Start with a low-level exposure and gradually increase the difficulty.

3. Behavioral Experiments

Behavioural experiments involve testing your negative beliefs to determine their accuracy.

For example, if you have social anxiety and believe people will judge you harshly, try starting a conversation with a stranger and see what happens.

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body. It can help reduce physical tension and anxiety.

How to do progressive muscle relaxation?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do progressive muscle relaxation:

Step 1: Find a Quiet and Comfortable Place

Find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. You can do PMR sitting in a chair or lying on a comfortable surface.

Step 2: Sit or Lie Down

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Ensure you are not wearing tight clothing that may restrict your movements.

Step 3: Tense and Relax Your Muscles
  • Start by tensing and relaxing your feet.
  • Clench your toes and hold the tension for a few seconds, then release the tension and rest your feet.
  • Next, tense and relax your calf muscles. Move to your thighs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, back, arms, and shoulders.
  • Tense each muscle group for a few seconds, then release the tension and relax the muscle.
Step 4: Focus on Your Breathing
  • As you tense and relax each muscle group, focus on your breathing.
  • Take slow, deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth.
Step 5: Release Tension

When you release the tension in each muscle group, focus on the sensation of relaxation. Imagine the stress leaving your body and being replaced by a feeling of peace.

Step 6: Continue the Process

Continue tensing and relaxing each muscle group in the order described in Step 3. Take your time with each muscle group, and focus on the sensations of tension and relaxation.

Step 7: End the Exercise

Once you have tensed and relaxed all the muscle groups in your body, take a few deep breaths and focus on the overall sensation of relaxation. Slowly open your eyes and take a few moments to become aware of your surroundings.

Tips for Practicing PMR

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your PMR practice:

  • Practice PMR in a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your movements.
  • Use slow, deep breathing to help you relax.
  • Focus on the sensation of relaxation when you release tension in each muscle group.
  • Take your time with the exercise; take time with each muscle group.
  • Practice PMR regularly for best results.

5. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment and accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can help you become more aware of your thoughts and reduce anxiety.

6. Imagery Exercises

Imagery exercises involve visualizing a calm, peaceful scene to help reduce anxiety. It can be a helpful tool to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

7. Graded Exposure

Graded exposure involves gradually exposing yourself to anxiety-provoking situations. It can help desensitize you to the problem and reduce your anxiety levels over time.

8. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns. It can help you develop more positive and realistic ways of thinking.

9. Assertiveness Training

Assertiveness training can help you communicate your needs and desires clearly and confidently. It can help reduce anxiety in social situations.

10. Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help reduce physical tension and anxiety. Try inhaling deeply for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of four.

Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises

Before we delve into the techniques of deep breathing exercises, let’s take a moment to understand why they benefit our health. Deep breathing exercises can:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve lung capacity and oxygenation
  • Strengthen the respiratory and cardiovascular systems
  • Boost immunity
  • Promote relaxation and better sleep

How to Perform Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are easy to perform and can be done anywhere. Follow these steps to practice deep breathing:

Step 1: Find a comfortable and quiet place

Find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down comfortably without any distractions.

Step 2: Get in the proper posture

Sit straight with your feet flat on the floor, or lie down on your back. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.

Step 3: Take a deep breath

Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your belly as you breathe in. Focus on your breath and count to four as you inhale.

Step 4: Hold your breath

Hold your breath for a few seconds, counting to seven.

Step 5: Exhale slowly

Exhale slowly through your mouth, pushing out all the air from your lungs. Focus on your breath and count to eight as you exhale.

Step 6: Repeat the process

Repeat the process for five to ten minutes or as long as you feel comfortable. Focus on your breath and try to clear your mind of any distractions.

Incorporating CBT Exercises into Daily Life

Now that we understand cognitive behavioural therapy exercises, let’s discuss how to incorporate them into daily life. Cognitive behavioural therapy exercises can be practised in various ways, including journaling, practising mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring.


  • Journaling is a great way to incorporate cognitive behavioural therapy exercises into daily life.
  • Start by identifying negative thoughts and writing them down.
  • Then, challenge these thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
  • Journaling can also help you track your progress and identify patterns in your thinking.

Practising Mindfulness

  • Practising mindfulness is another excellent way to incorporate cognitive behavioural therapy exercises into daily life.
  • Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and observing your thoughts without judgment.
  • By practising mindfulness, you can identify negative thoughts and challenge them at the moment.

Cognitive Restructuring

  • Cognitive restructuring is a cognitive behavioural therapy exercise that involves identifying and replacing negative thoughts with positive on.
  • It can be done by asking yourself questions such as “What evidence do I have to support this thought?” or “What would I say to a friend in this situation?”

How to track progress and monitor anxiety levels

While anxiety can be managed through medication and therapy, tracking progress and monitoring anxiety levels is crucial. 

Identifying Triggers

The first step in tracking progress and monitoring anxiety levels is identifying triggers. Triggers are situations, people, or events that cause anxiety symptoms.

Identifying and avoiding triggers as much as possible is essential to manage anxiety effectively. Some common triggers include public speaking, social situations, and financial stress.

Keeping a Journal

A journal is an effective way to track progress and monitor anxiety levels. Journaling allows you to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, which can help you identify triggers and patterns.

You can use a journal to track your anxiety symptoms, such as frequency, intensity, and duration. You can also write down coping strategies that work for you, such as deep breathing or mindfulness meditation.

Using Apps and Tools

Various apps and tools are available to track progress and monitor anxiety levels. These apps and devices use self-report questionnaires to assess anxiety symptoms and provide personalized feedback.

Some popular apps include Headspace, Calm, and Pacifica. These apps offer guided meditations, breathing exercises, and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.

Seeking Professional Help

While self-monitoring and self-care can effectively manage anxiety, seeking professional help is essential if you experience severe or persistent anxiety symptoms.

A mental health professional can diagnose anxiety disorders and provide evidence-based treatment, such as medication and therapy.

Professional help can also offer support, guidance, and resources to manage anxiety effectively.

Practising Self-Care

Practising self-care is essential to manage anxiety effectively. Self-care involves taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health.

You can practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and spending time with loved ones.

You can also practice self-care by engaging in activities that bring you joy, such as reading, writing, or painting.

Building a Support System

Building a support system is crucial in managing anxiety. A support system includes family, friends, and mental health professionals who can provide emotional support, guidance, and resources.

You can also join support groups or online communities to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Building a support system can help you feel less isolated and more empowered to manage anxiety effectively.

Setting Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is essential in tracking progress and managing anxiety. Setting goals can help you focus on positive outcomes and motivate you to take action.

However, it’s necessary to set goals that are achievable and realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment and frustration, worsening anxiety symptoms.

You can set goals in different areas of your life, such as work, relationships, or hobbies.

Practising Mindfulness

Practising mindfulness is an effective way to manage anxiety. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting it without judgment.

Mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation and increasing self-awareness. You can practice mindfulness by meditating, deep breathing, or doing yoga.

Taking Breaks

Taking breaks is essential to manage anxiety and prevent burnout. Vacations can help you recharge, refocus, and reduce stress.

You can take breaks throughout the day by engaging in activities that help you relax, such as walking, listening to music, or practising a hobby. You can also take longer breaks by planning vacations or time off from work.

Tracking Progress

Tracking progress is essential in managing anxiety. Progress tracking can help you measure your success, identify areas for improvement, and adjust your strategies accordingly.

You can track progress by setting goals, monitoring your symptoms, and using apps and tools. It’s essential to track progress regularly and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may be.

Seeking Help When Needed

Finally, it’s essential to seek help when needed. If you’re experiencing severe or persistent anxiety symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

A mental health professional can provide evidence-based treatment and support to manage anxiety effectively. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

How to identify negative thoughts and challenge them

Negative thoughts can take hold of your mind and significantly impact your daily life. They can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

The good news is that with some effort and practice, you can identify negative thoughts and challenge them.

Techniques to Identify Negative Thoughts


  • Mindfulness is a powerful technique that can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings.
  • It involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment.
  • Practising mindfulness lets you observe your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up.


  • Journaling is another effective way to identify negative thoughts.
  • Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you become more aware of your thinking patterns.
  • You can then review your journal entries and identify negative thoughts holding you back.


  • Self-talk is the way we talk to ourselves.
  • Negative self-talk can significantly impact our mental health and well-being.
  • By becoming more aware of your self-talk, you can identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

Strategies to challenge negative thoughts

Question Your Thoughts

  • One of the most effective ways to challenge negative thoughts is to question them.
  • Ask yourself if the idea is valid and if the evidence supports it.
  • If there isn’t any evidence, then it’s likely that the thought is not accurate.

Reframe Your Thoughts

  • Another effective strategy is to reframe your thoughts.
  • Instead of thinking negatively, try to find a more positive way of looking at the situation.
  • For example, instead of thinking, “I’m never going to be good enough,” reframe it to “I’m making progress, and I will get better with practice.”

Practice Gratitude

  • Practising gratitude can help you shift your focus from negative thoughts to positive ones.
  • Take time each day to think about what you’re grateful for, no matter how small it may be.
  • It can help you develop a more positive outlook on life.

Can I do CBT exercises on my own?

Yes, cognitive behavioural therapy exercises can be done on your own. However, it’s essential to seek the guidance of a mental health professional if you’re experiencing severe anxiety or if your symptoms persist.

How long do CBT exercises take to work?

The effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy exercises can vary from person to person. Some may see results within a few weeks, while others may take longer to notice a change.

What if I need help with mindfulness meditation?

It’s normal to have trouble with mindfulness meditation at first. Practice regularly and try different techniques to find what works best for you.

My final thoughts

Cognitive behavioural therapy exercise is an effective therapy for reducing anxiety.

By identifying negative thought patterns and learning coping strategies, you can reduce anxiety symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Try incorporating these exercises into your daily routine and seek the guidance of a mental health professional if needed.

By Sonam Tobgay

I'm the creator of Healthy Lifestyle blog. I've been fascinated with health related articles and information since 2005 and have spent most of my waking hours consuming health contents from the top professionals in this field. My goal is to share the best tips and news about health, benefits of fruits and vegetables, and other health related issues so you can follow and lead a healthy life.

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