CBT and exposure therapy delivered online slows cellular aging in those with social anxiety disorder
Does anxiety shorten your lifespan? Monitor on Psychology, a publication by the American Psychological Association, recently reviewed a study examining the relationship between CBT and exposure therapy exercises delivered via telehealth (online therapy) and cellular aging. The study was conducted primarily by researchers from Swedish universities and institutions, who chose to use the length of telomeres to measure the rate of cellular aging. Telomeres, which are small stretches of DNA, protect chromosomes from damage and shorten with age. Not only is telomere attrition related to age, it is also linked to psychiatric disorders such as social anxiety disorder. It is possible that the degradation of telomeres underlies the relationship between mental illness and physical illness.
The researchers drew blood samples from 46 participants who were diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The participants engaged in a 9-week online course in CBT. The first four weeks of the CBT course were dedicated to providing psychoeducation and exercises related to social phobia, negative automatic thoughts, and common unhelpful thinking styles. At the fifth week, participants were taught to engage in exposure therapy exercises in which participants began approaching anxiety invoking situation, rather than avoiding them. This leads to improvements in distress tolerance and decreases in anxiety over time. Each week the 46 participants completed CBT and exposure homework assignments and submitted them to clinical psychologists, who offered feedback and guidance each week. The researchers drew blood samples again following participants’ completion of the course and found that improvements in telomere health was related decreases in social anxiety.
Check out the original study here.
Check out these CBT SoCal articles if you would like to learn more about exposure therapy exercises:
Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He provides online therapy (telehealth) by way of the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and all over California.