Understanding and tackling ‘interview anxiety’ – a CBT view

An exercise in disputing irrational extreme ‘Interview Anxiety’ with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy…


Interview Anxiety – A Case Study


Click the above table image for easy reading, or download as a PDF handout: CBT_ABCD_InterviewAnxiety

On examination, Patricia learns that she has a negative ‘self-talk’ pattern. Her thoughts are absolute and extreme and not quite rational (not based on evidence).

We will use a simple Cognitive Behavioural Therapy thought form to identify and dispute these thoughts.

Summary: Patricia is not living in the present – but rather is sacrificing the present by becoming consumed about worrying about the future, and using bad thinking habits. The future does not exist yet! Short of having a crystal ball, none of us know for sure what is going to happen. We live right now in the present – to sacrifice the things we enjoy doing, and interaction and fun, so that we can obsess and upset ourselves about an incident in the future is irrational. Especially when we catastrophise and fortune-tell very unpleasant negative outcomes, and decide that they are absolute ‘facts’. Why wouldn’t we be extremely upset in a debilitating way if all those thoughts were true?

Patricia views the interview as an extreme hazard to her, something to be feared, so her body goes into a constant simmering of Fight or Flight but the danger is pychological rather than actually physical. If Patricia can convince herself there is actually nothing to fear – she will not have the constant buzzing worry and the physical ‘collywobbles’. She might even be intellectually curious, and even excited, about how it will go. Imagine?!

FACT:  It is likely that Patricia has ‘demand thinking‘ of Musts and Shoulds and Ought To’s that she applies to herself and others and the world… CBT can help to break that pattern, so that Patricia will have an appropriate response to the situation – so that she will realise that it is not written in stone anywhere that she MUST perform ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY in this interview. It is not declared by the stars that she MUST get this job, or else THE WORLD AS SHE KNOWS IT WILL END. It is NOT THE ONLY CHANCE Patricia will ever have to work. It is likely that nobody but Patricia and the interviewer will ever know or care about the tiny minutiae of the actual interview itself… She will either be the best fit for the job – according to the (fallible) interviewer(s) and their criteria (which she has no knowledge of) – or she won’t! C’est la vie. All she can do is her best – the ideal healthy view is of curiously and excitement mixed in with appropriate nervousness.

Disputing the irrational negative automatic thoughts that are causing Patricia’s upsettness and undesirable behaviour with actual evidence based alternative thinking is required here!

To track our negative automatic thoughts – so that we can actively dispute them – we can use a simple CBT Thought Form, a journal style two column structure that holds the thought, and then examines it and demolishes it if it’s irrational. We dispute the thought and study the new healthy realistic thinking – then as the thoughts occur in the future, we ‘thought stop’ and deliberately choose to think the new thoughts instead. It’s hard. You must do it over and over again. But it works. If applied diligently, it could become the way you think automatically, allowing you to LIVE YOUR LIFE! Which would be wonderful? Okay – enjoy!

Tips for disputing irrational negative thoughts

  • What is the evidence?
  • What alternative views are there?
  • What is the effect of thinking the way I do?
  • Is my thinking realistic?
  • What would I tell my best friend?

Have a go yourself by stepping in to Patricia’s shoes and disputing the negative automatic thoughts she incovered – I’ll start you off with disputes for the first two typical unhelpful irrational thoughts, then you can fill in your own disputes for the rest:

I can’t do this. /
It’s not true to tell myself I can’t do this – I can in fact do it, I just don’t feel I want to! It would be more correct to say that I’m afraid to do it and don’t think I’ll do it well. Thinking in an absolute and negative way only serves to maximise my discomfort and make me avoid situations instead of facing them, or even finding them interesting or exciting.

I’m going to make a complete mess of it, it will be awful. /
There’s no evidence to support this thinking. I’m ‘fortune telling’ an event that hasn’t happened yet. In actual fact I have no idea what will happen on the day.. I know that I’m nervous and worried that I won’t perform well enough to get the job – but ‘awful.ising’ the situation with strong language likethat is extreme and irrational and causes me to feel anxious and behave in self-limiting ways. It’s unhelpful. It has always been unhelpful. It would be more correct to say that ‘I’m nervous and worried that I won’t impress the interviewers.’ This is normal for all of we fallible human beings when we’re putting ourselves up to be judged in order to get something we want – it is what it is! I can, if I wish, choose to be curious about it and to simply attempt to do my best and go with whatever happens. Even if I show nervousness, to whatever degree, well, so what? It won’t be the first or last time they’ll see that. And you never know – I might do just fine, and it will be a valuable learning experience whether or not I get the job!
I’ll make a show of myself. /
They’ll laugh at me for wasting their time. /
I haven’t got a hope in hell of getting the job. /
I’m such a loser. /
It’ll be awful, I can’t bear it. /
I’ll never get a job. /
I’ll never be happy again. /
It’s hopeless, what’s the point? /

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