Could a Little Cognitive Behavior Therapy Help You in School? An Expert Explains

Cognitive behavior therapy has been shown time and time again to be a highly effective method for dealing with anxiety, so why don't more of us take advantage of the process when we're processing school stress?

For many students, the pressures of school can be overwhelming at times. If any upcoming test, multi-page essay or big project leaves you feeling super anxious, CBT might be just what you need to develop healthy patterns and get on the right track and succeed. We wanted to learn more about the subject, and we got the chance to ask Dr. Jenny Yip, Doctor of Psychology and American Board of Professional Psychology member, to learn more about CBT, who it can help and how to practice it in order to approach school—and life—with a better mindset.

Sweety High: What exactly is cognitive behavioral therapy? What are the steps, and what kinds of people can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy?

Dr. Jenny Yip: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has repeatedly shown to be the most effective approach for defeating OCD and anxiety.

There are two parts to cognitive behavioral therapy. First is the cognitive part: You learn how to identify thinking patterns that don't necessarily reflect reality. Then, you learn to adjust for those thinking patterns, those mind traps, so that you're able to increase more flexible thinking.

The second part of CBT is behavioral. It teaches you how your interactions with your environment may not be the healthiest, and gives you strategies to adapt to your environment so you can improve your mood, results, and daily functioning.

Anyone and everyone can benefit from CBT because we all have faulty thinking patterns and unhealthy habits. Once you learn the strategy that comes with CBT, then you're more able to recognize the mind traps that get you stuck. Our emotions are triggered by our thinking patterns, so if you have faulty thinking patterns, you're going to have more unpleasant emotions that then determine your behaviors. You're less likely to engage in healthy behaviors if you're having unpleasant emotions.

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SH: What are the main signs that cognitive behavior therapy might be beneficial for you as a student?

JY: If you're constantly feeling anxious or worried whenever you have an upcoming project or test, then CBT will be very beneficial. If you find yourself procrastinating all the time, overwhelmed by your workload, feeling lost, unmotivated, depressed or disorganized about school tasks, it's time to seek help.


SH: How can adjusting unhealthy thinking habits help you feel less stressed in school and help you to do better academically, socially and emotionally?

JY: Cognitive behavior therapy is there to help you identify those unhealthy thinking patterns, because those unhealthy thinking patterns are keeping you trapped and stuck in the spiral of negative thought. Rather than catastrophizing to the worst possible consequence, you can realize your thoughts are not realistically accurate. When you gain awareness of more accurate thinking patterns, you're able to think more optimistically about your abilities, which can lead to feeling more driven. You'll have belief in yourself to be able to achieve the task and the demand from school, sports and anything you set your mind to.

Most kids think to themselves, "I can't," "I don't know how," "I'm not smart enough," or "I just don't have time," but many don't understand that all these negatives aren't necessarily accurate, and thinking in these patterns doesn't help you gain belief in yourself that you can attend to the task at hand.

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SH: How can understanding cognitive therapy help you grasp school concepts that you might otherwise struggle with?

JY: You struggle when you don't believe that you can. You struggle when you're thinking in a tunnel, when you have that narrow thinking and you don't believe you have the ability to grasp a concept. These are the false narratives that we tell ourselves. Constant self-doubt interferes with learning. CBT helps you turn self-doubt into an optimistic, "I can" attitude.


Also read about: What Exactly Is Emotional Regulation? An Expert Gives Tips on Managing Feelings in a Healthy Way


SH: What are some simple activities or practices that can help you to regulate your emotions when you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed at school?

JY: When we're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, what we're doing is dooming ourselves, right? We're thinking of all of the negatives of what's going wrong. One way to counter that by journaling all of the positive things that are going well. Find evidence for the opposite of what your anxiety monster tells you.

However, some kids who are really stuck in that negative spiral will have a hard time even thinking about positives, and they will turn any positive into a negative. That's when to practice perspective-taking. If this happened to a friend, what would you tell your friend?

I tell my kids to do "worry time." It's dedicated time when you're writing down your worries for 15 minutes. Because you don't want to ignore your feelings, you want to acknowledge them, but you just don't want to give so much credence to them. Give space for your worry—don't dismiss it or invalidate your experience. Because it is hard being a student—the pressure is real. But just because the pressure is present, doesn't necessarily mean it deserves 100% of our attention. And perhaps during "worry time," you might also come up with solutions for each worry.

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(via Shutterstock)


SH: Is there anything else we should know about the topic?

JY: More helpful strategies for students, such as scheduling tasks, breaking down mountains into molehills and visualization are in my book, Productive, Successful You!

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