Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Workplace Anxiety

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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural, normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It is a feeling of fear or unease, accompanied often by worrying thoughts and physiological symptoms such as shortness of breath and increased heartrate. Anxiety is commonly triggered when an individual feels stressed or under pressure, such as when public speaking, taking a test, or an important job interview. However, when anxiety becomes chronic, it can negatively impact an individual’s daily functioning and overall quality of life. 

Mental Health

When anxiety becomes pervasive, it can develop into a disorder. Anxiety disorders are diagnosable conditions that include Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder to name but a few. Each subtype has its own unique characteristics and symptoms, but all forms of anxiety may cause the following physical and emotional symptoms:   

  • Increased heart rate  
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath  
  • Sweating or trembling  
  • Muscle tension or tightness  
  • Feelings of restlessness, agitation, or irritability  
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing  
  • Racing thoughts or persistent worry  
  • Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety

For some individuals, anxiety can lead them to withdraw from social contact or day-to-day activities and avoid situations that cause anxiety.   

Anxiety can negatively impact an individual’s ability to complete tasks, fulfil responsibilities, and make clear decisions. Withdrawal from social contact can impact relationships, leading to guilt and shame, and increase future anxiety.  

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorder. CBT aims to identify unhelpful thinking patterns, challenge negative thoughts, modify behaviours that contribute to anxiety, and introduce coping skills. CBT also includes exposure therapy, where individuals gradually confront and desensitize themselves to anxiety-provoking situations, like a specific workplace-related task.   

Although anxiety can negatively impact one’s life and performance, anxiety is treatable with CBT.  

The Relationship Between Workplace Stress and Anxiety

Workplace stress is a common occurrence that affects almost everyone at some point. Some stress can be positive and can increase motivation. Unhelpful stress, however, can be distressing to experience and can cause anxiety or other mental health difficulties. Workplace stress can be caused by a variety of factors from heavy workload to poor working conditions, competing deadlines, and conflicts with colleagues.     

Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between workplace stress and anxiety. Individuals who experience elevated levels of stress at work are significantly more likely to develop anxiety or other mental health problems. When the body is exposed to stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline for prolonged periods of time, it can impact both mental and physical health for the worse.   

It is important therefore for organisations to take proactive steps to reduce workplace stress and create a supportive work environment. This can be done by offering training and support to workers on how to cope with stress and anxiety, providing flexible working arrangements, offering regular breaks, and promoting a positive work-life balance.   

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that has been proven to be effective in treating workplace anxiety. CBT can help individuals to identify the root cause of their anxiety, develop coping skills and problem-solving techniques and apply them to the workplace and in other areas of life.   

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What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected and can impact one other for both the better and the worse. It is a well-established treatment that is often the first line of defence for several mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and phobias.   

In CBT, individuals will work collaboratively with their therapist to achieve specific, measurable, achievable goals within a timeframe, e.g. to be able to deliver a presentation in 6 weeks’ time. The main goal of CBT is to help people identify and change negative or unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to their mental health problems. CBT is designed to be a short-term treatment that is focused on the present, rather than delving into past events.   

CBT is grounded in the concept of cognitive restructuring, which involves changing the way we think. Negative thoughts can often lead to negative emotions, which in turn result in behaviours. that may not be helpful in the long-term. CBT aims to replace these negative thoughts with more realistic (less biased) and positive ones.   

An important aspect of CBT is exposure therapy. During exposure therapy, the therapist will collaborate with the individual to gradually expose them individual to situations that trigger anxiety to increasing degrees, to help them learn to tolerate and cope with their anxiety more effectively. This is commonly used in the treatment of anxiety disorders and phobias.   

CBT can be delivered in different formats, including online, in groups, as 1:1 session, or self-help materials.  

How does CBT help Anxiety?

CBT is a goal-oriented, solution-focussed therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to anxiety. By examining the underlying beliefs and assumptions that are driving anxious thoughts and behaviours, individuals can learn to reframe their thinking and respond to situations in a more positive and productive way.   

One key element of CBT is the use of practical strategies to manage anxiety symptoms, and homework during which individuals are expected to evidence that they have been implementing techniques between sessions. Techniques can include relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and cognitive restructuring as examples. These techniques can be easily implemented in the workplace, allowing employees to quickly and effectively manage any anxiety that arises on the job.   

Another important aspect of CBT is the increasing self-awareness through self-reflection. Within CBT, individuals are encouraged to pay attention to their thoughts and feelings, identify triggers for their anxiety, and develop a greater understanding of their own behavioral patterns. This awareness can be incredibly beneficial in a work environment, as individuals can begin to anticipate situations that might trigger anxiety and develop coping strategies to deal with those situations when they arise.   

CBT is also a highly adaptable therapy and is tailored to suit the individual needs of each client. This is particularly beneficial for workplace anxiety, where the specific triggers and symptoms can vary widely depending on the industry and the individual. CBT can be customised to address the challenges and stressors of a given workplace, helping employees to build resilience and cope with anxiety more effectively.   

All of these factors make CBT an extremely effective treatment for workplace anxiety. Providing individuals with the skills and tools they need to manage their anxiety can improve wellbeing and work satisfaction.  

What does CBT for Anxiety Involve?

The first step in CBT for anxiety usually involves an assessment to determine the nature and severity of the anxiety, as well as any underlying factors that may be contributing to it. From there, a treatment plan is developed that is tailored to the individual’s needs and goals.   

One of the main techniques used in CBT for anxiety is called cognitive restructuring. This involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced and realistic ones. For example, if someone has social anxiety and is worried about attending a party, they may have the thought “everyone is going to think I’m stupid and boring”. Through cognitive restructuring, the therapist would help the individual to challenge this thought by asking for evidence that supports it, and then replacing it with a more balanced thought, such as “I may not be the life of the party, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid or boring”.   

Another technique commonly used in CBT for anxiety is exposure therapy. This involves gradually exposing the individual to the situations or stimuli that trigger anxiety, in a safe and controlled way. The aim is to help the individual build up their tolerance to these triggers over time, so that they no longer feel overwhelming anxiety in these situations.   

Overall, CBT for anxiety is a highly effective form of therapy that can help individuals learn to manage their anxiety symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. If you are struggling with anxiety, it may be worth exploring CBT as a potential treatment option.   

How to Access CBT

  1. Seek a referral from your GP  

Your first step in accessing CBT is to speak with your General Practitioner (GP). They can evaluate your symptoms and any underlying medical conditions that might be playing a role in your anxiety. Once they have determined that CBT might be a good fit for you, your GP can refer you to a CBT therapist.  

  1. Consider private therapy  

If you prefer not to seek therapy from the NHS, there are plenty of private therapists available throughout the UK. You can find them through directories such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the British Psychological Society (BPS) directories. With private therapy, you can often schedule appointments more quickly, choose a therapist that you feel would be the right fit for you, and have more flexibility in terms of scheduling.   

  1. Try online CBT programs  

There are many online CBT programs available that can help you manage your workplace anxiety effectively. These programs can be accessed from the comfort of your home or office, and they reduce the wait for therapy and are often more affordable than traditional face-to-face therapy. Some popular options include FearFighter, Beating the Blues, and MoodGYM.   

  1. Ask your employer for support  

If your workplace anxiety is directly related to your job, it’s worth speaking with your employer about potential support options. Many employers have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that offer mental health support, including CBT. They may also be able to put you in touch with a therapist who specializes in workplace stress management.   

  1. Seek support from a charity or support group  

There are many mental health charities and support groups throughout the UK that can offer support and resources for individuals experiencing workplace anxiety. Some options include Anxiety UK, Mind, and ReThink.   


In conclusion, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for workplace anxiety. By targeting and challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety symptoms and improve their overall well-being.    

Through the use of cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy, CBT provides individuals with practical tools to help them manage their anxiety. These tools include relaxation techniques, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms that can be used both in and outside of the workplace.   

CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy that focuses on the present and helps individuals identify and change their negative thoughts and behaviours. It can be delivered in various formats, including individual therapy, group therapy, or self-help interventions.   

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, and part of that responsibility includes addressing mental health issues such as anxiety. By providing employees with resources and support, including CBT, employers can foster a positive work culture that promotes mental well-being and productivity.   

In conclusion, CBT is an accessible and effective intervention for workplace anxiety. Through practical techniques and an emphasis on changing negative thoughts and behaviours, CBT can help individuals manage their anxiety symptoms and improve their overall well-being. Employers have an important role to play in promoting mental health in the workplace, and providing support for CBT is just one way they can fulfill that responsibility.  To learn more about how CBT can help you or your employees manage anxiety in the workplace, contact us at PMAC today.   

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