The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 19.1% of adults in the United States have struggled with an anxiety disorder in the past 12 months. Statistics show that women had a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders when compared to males. When we look at the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders, NIMH reported that 31.1% of adults struggle with an anxiety disorder at one point or another.
As with most mental health concerns, there are individual differences in the symptoms and severity of impairment that individuals living with anxiety disorders can experience. The NIMH reported that the majority of individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders experience mild impairment, followed by moderate impairment and significant impairment, respectively.
Anxiety disorders can impact individuals of all ages and can have a significant impact on adolescents and young adults. The NIMH estimates that 31.9% of adolescents are living with an anxiety disorder, 8.3% of which experience significant impairment from their symptoms. In this post, I review 35 group therapy activities for individuals with anxiety you can use in your practice’s group sessions.
How Does Group Therapy Help Individuals with Anxiety?
Many individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders benefit from a combination of psychotropic medication and behavioral treatment approaches. This can include individual and group therapy.
There are several benefits to using group therapy activities for adults with anxiety and adolescents with anxiety. One of which would be that group therapy can help individuals see that they are not alone in their struggles and that there are others living with similar struggles. This can be a powerful realization for individuals who feel as though they are alone in their struggles.
For individuals who experience social impairment from their symptoms, group sessions can provide them with an opportunity to learn about, and practice social skills. This can include effective communication patterns and establishing boundaries. In addition to practicing these skills, time can be spent discussing how they can cope with any anxiety symptoms that come up for them.
In addition to relating to others’ struggles, group therapy gives members an opportunity to learn from each other. Group members can talk about what helps them and what has not been helpful in regard to their anxiety symptoms. Members are also given an opportunity to provide feedback, support, and encouragement to others which can have a positive impact on group dynamics. Anxiety group therapy activities for adolescents can be a fun way to encourage group involvement when group members are reluctant to participate in group sessions.
Do you work with clients with anxiety issues? Check out our Anxiety Worksheets
List of Group Therapy Activities for Treating Anxiety
It is important for counselors to remember that there are fun group therapy activities for adults with anxiety in addition to educational ones. Being flexible with what activities and topics we use in our group sessions can make the group more enjoyable and beneficial for our group members.
Let’s get into some group therapy activities for anxiety treatment groups:
- Asking group members to “check in” at the beginning of the group session and rate their anxiety for the last day or few days, depending on your group. This allows the group leader to gauge the group members’ needs.
- Spend time discussing different forms of meditation such as guided meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. Have the group practice examples of different forms of meditation, followed by a discussion about how they could be applied to the member’s daily routine.
- Ask the group members to write down a fear that contributes to their anxiety and place it in a bowl. The group leader reads the fears aloud, asking group members to raise their hands if they relate. If members have concerns about participating, you can ask members to close their eyes when they raise their hands.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of self-care, and ask members to identify something that they can add to their routine for self-care. Follow up in the next session to see if there were any noticed benefits.
- Ask group members what they feel a “typical day” would look like for them if they did not struggle with anxiety. See if there is any aspect that they identify that they can work towards as a personal goal.
- Spend time discussing effective communication skills and provide group members time to practice the skills in pairs or groups.
- Spend time discussing how to set boundaries and provide group members time to practice boundary setting in pairs or groups.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of visualization and ask the group members to describe their “happy place”. After sharing, ask the group to close their eyes, and imagine they are in that place for 3 to 5 minutes. Spend time processing their experience and if they see themselves using this skill.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of breathing exercises, such as box breathing. Allow for time to process a breathing exercise and talk about situations where this can be a helpful coping skill.
- Spend time discussing the benefits of counting and ask the group to identify situations where this can be a helpful coping skill.
- Spend time discussing how our 5 senses can be used during grounding exercises. Allow for time to talk to the group through a grounding exercise that uses their senses and identifies situations where this can be a helpful coping skill.
- Create a Jeopardy game discussing different categories relevant to your group. This can include psychoeducation about anxiety, psychotropic medications, behavioral treatment approaches, coping skills, triggers, community resources, etc.
- Ask the group to identify anxious thoughts they struggle with. Once you have the thought identified, spend time investigating for “evidence” that supports or disproves the anxious thought.
- Provide group members with a printout of a human body outline. Ask the group members to identify where in their bodies they experience anxiety. For example, do they clench their jaw or tense their shoulders? Encourage group members to practice body scans to be aware of how their anxiety impacts their bodies.
- Ask the group to share what emotions they struggle to cope with. Spend time discussing healthy coping skills that can be used to cope with their identified emotions.
- Ask the group to describe a time they effectively coped with their anxiety symptoms. Explore what helped them, and what they could have done differently.
- Ask the group to share a time when they did not feel anxious. Spend time exploring their environment and other contributing factors in that situation.
- Spend time discussing the importance of social support. Ask the group to identify 3 healthy supports they have in their life.
- Create a coping cheat sheet card that group members can keep in their wallets. This card can have a list of 3-10 coping skills that they can use when they are struggling. Examples could be breathing, counting, calling a friend, calling a hotline, listening to a song, or pausing.
- Create a bingo game that has different types of coping skills on the board. This can include distraction, emotional release, mindfulness, grounding, self-care, or thought challenge. When a member says “BINGO” ask for a coping skill for each of the categories that they have listed in their row.
- Watch a video or movie that shows someone struggling with anxiety. Talk about what they could relate to, any takeaways from the show, and if they feel anything was exaggerated. It would be appropriate to talk about the role that social media can have on our mental health.
- Spend time talking about the difference between short-term and long-term goals. Ask the group to identify goals for each and share their motivation for the goal.
- Prepare a list of songs in different genres. Ask the group to remain silent while listening to the group and write down their thoughts and feelings while listening to the songs. Allow for time to talk about how music can impact our emotions and how this can be used to cope with uncomfortable emotions.
- Ask group members to identify a song that they can relate to. Play the song for the group, and allow time for the group member to share how they relate.
- Ask the group members to write a letter about their anxiety. Allow group members an opportunity to destroy the letter after they read it, and process this experience.
- Spend time talking about the role that our body language has in our communication with others. Discuss the difference between open and closed posture, and ask members to share if they would like to try making changes to their body language.
- Play a game of Charades and discuss the importance of effective communication skills.
- Provide your group with the materials needed to create a collage of coping skills for their anxiety. This can include construction paper, scissors, glue, and magazines.
- Talk about the role that exercising regularly can have on our mental health. Ask the group to talk about their exercise routine, and any improvements they can make.
- Provide the group with a list of positive affirmations and talk about different ways that they can incorporate them into their daily routine.
- Provide the group with paper plates and writing utensils. Ask them to write on the plate things that they feel are “on their plate” and causing distress. Take time to investigate which things they can take off their plate, and things that they could ask for support with.
- Provide the group with balloons, flour, and a funnel, and spend time making stress balls. Review situations that they would be able to use as a coping skill.
- Spend a group providing psychoeducation about different psychotropic medications that can be used with anxiety disorders.
- Spend a group providing psychoeducation about the different anxiety disorders that individuals can live with.
- Provide the group with Mandalas and colored pencils. Allow time for group members to color their Mandalas. Spend time processing what this experience was like for them, and if they found it to be calming.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Anxiety
Social anxiety group therapy activities provide Counselors with an opportunity to provide psychoeducation and promote member engagement. When we look for different anxiety group therapy activities, we can tailor the activity to our group members. As an example, if we see that there is a common struggle with communication skills, we can focus on learning and practicing healthy communication strategies.
Group therapy activity anxiety groups can be used to increase group participation for groups that are more reserved in session. This can be relevant to new groups, or groups that have frequent changes to their members. Effective Counselors can facilitate engaging and informative group sessions for individuals living with an array of anxiety disorders.
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