There seems to be a lot of anxiety around. The fashionable remedy for it is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has become ‘official’ – you can get it on the NHS.

CBT has been proven to deliver results, but I believe NLP offers both a tool that is just as good as CBT and a range of other ways of combating anxiety.

NLP and anxiety

The NLP ‘Metamodel’, the insight that started the whole discipline, is very similar to CBT.

It finds unhelpful language patterns in clients and sets routines for challenging them. Such patterns often reveal exaggerated fears – for instance, anxiety suffers might believe that a certain situation will bring about death or lasting damage, when there is no evidence for this belief.

The patterns can reveal unjustified beliefs about how ‘people’ feel and will judge them, or about moral absolutes that turn out not to be absolute at all. In all cases, clients have locked themselves in an anxiety-producing set of conceptual cages, which, if questioned systematically using the Metamodel, can spring open – just as can happen with CBT.

How NLP can offer more than CBT when treating anxiety

But NLP also has other tools that CBT does not. A ‘strategies’ approach investigates how people ‘do anxiety’.

At NLP School, I will sit down with a client and ask them to recall an anxiety episode in great detail, especially what went on in their mind just beforehand. Unhelpful ritualised thought or behaviour patterns will often emerge, which they can change.

NLP teaches that we have more flexibility than we think: we can experiment with new methods of handling previously anxiety-inducing situations.

Treating past pain

Some anxiety is caused by past pain. NLP has techniques for identifying the original source of a phobic or anxiety response and for changing the way we react to that memory. These old, traumatic events may not be what we remember: I remember a client with phobia of wasps, who said she had been stung, but then found that the actual trauma came from being a small child, ill in a room with wallpaper with pictures of bees on.

She was able to re-experience this through ‘adult eyes’, and her fear of wasps disappeared.

Sometime anxiety can also be related to doing something that goes against our sense of self or identity. A typical example is a professional who is promoted and asked to ‘sell’ to obtain new clients.

Is this an issue about beliefs about who they are or their actual sense of identity? NLP has techniques to address both.

Engaging with ‘healthy’ anxiety

It’s also worth noting that anxiety and excitement are very closely related physiologically. Our ancestors, setting off on a risky hunt, may have felt the same as us anxious moderns, but given it a different name and welcomed it. NLP teaches us how to ‘reframe’, how to change the meaning of something by placing it in a new context.

This simple practice can be remarkably effective. A fresh look at our anxiety can make it seem a friend not a foe.

A measure of anxiety is, of course, a rational response to living in a fast-changing world. The NLP technique of Parts Integration enables us to look at that part of us which is anxious and engage in a dialogue with it.

In this exercise, it often emerges that the anxious part is a natural, healthy sub-system on the lookout for potential dangers. Maybe it has become a little overzealous: integrating it back into the whole personality can often calm it down, giving it more perspective. This might sound odd, but it works.


NLP has self-hypnosis techniques for relaxation. I talked about these in the last blog: give them a try. With NLP, self help for anxiety can work.

As in traditional meditation, this enables us to step back from our anxieties, notice them and co-exist with them rather than have a great battle to subdue them.

Ours seems to be an anxious age, but I don’t feel it has to be. By all means try CBT, but I believe that NLP has a wider range of tools for dealing with anxiety; not for repressing it or pretending it doesn’t exist, but for putting it back in its place, as a part of life, alongside many other more positive and helpful emotions.

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