How Can Therapy Help Anxiety?
It’s common to feel nervous or worried during stressful situations. However, individuals living with anxiety disorders experience feelings of nervousness, worry, and even panic consistently. When these feelings become overwhelming, they can impair an individual’s ability to function at work, school, or social situations and even impact physical health. If you feel like anxiety might be impacting you, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist for help. Therapy is one of the most common and effective ways to manage anxiety. It is reported that about 18% of the adult population in the United States experience anxiety disorders, but only 37% of those adults received treatment. Anxiety is a very treatable condition, so there is no need to suffer in silence. At Washington Psychological Wellness, we offer a psychological assessment to identify mental health needs and therapy services with qualified professionals to help you achieve your goals, manage symptoms, and move forward in life.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a term often used to describe feelings of fear, worry, or panic.
It’s important to understand that anxiety is normal to an extent and actually serves a purpose. When presented with a threat, feelings of fear and panic jumpstart the body’s fight-or-flight response, which is important for survival.
When anxiety triggers the fight-or-flight response, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body, causing increased heart rate, rapid or shallow breathing, and suppression of important functions like digestion. This is meant to be a short-term response necessary to give your body the energy it needs to either fight off a threat or run from it.
Unfortunately, in our modern lives, these threats can be both real and perceived. Instead of a tiger jumping out of a bush that kicks off your fight-or-flight system, it can be things like an expensive or overdue credit card payment, nasty comments on a social media post, or traffic on the highway.
Our bodies can also react the same way to perceived threats. This often happens when we think about future worst-case scenarios or situations that haven’t or may not ever happen.
Anxiety becomes a mental health issue when fear, worry, and panic occur so frequently that it impacts our daily life and physical health by not allowing our bodies to recover from fight-or-flight responses.
Remember, anxiety is only supposed to be a short-term reaction, not a long-term life sentence.
There are different anxiety disorders that fall under the umbrella term ‘anxiety.’ All of which are treatable with therapy, but in some cases can require other interventions like psychiatric medications.
Unlike medications though, therapy can help uncover underlying issues, process emotions, and teach you coping skills to resolve symptoms. Here are the different types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive worry, fear, or anxiety on most days persisting for 6 months or more.
This frequency of anxiety can impact several aspects of life including work, school, relationships, and health. Some symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are irritability, uncontrollable worry, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and generally feeling on-edge.
Individuals with panic disorder will experience panic attacks. Panic attacks come on suddenly and quickly with feelings of intense fear that last a few minutes or sometimes longer.
Individuals who experience panic attacks unexpectedly might start to avoid certain situations or places where a previous panic attack occurred. Panic attack symptoms include sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, pounding heart or heart palpitations, and feeling out of control or impending doom.
Individuals with a phobia-related disorder experience an intense fear or aversion to specific things, like certain objects or situations.
Fear and aversion to specific things can be realistic, like feeling fearful of a dangerous animal, but phobias are more intense than a realistic fear. Specific phobias include things like fear of flying, heights, and animals/bugs.
Other anxiety disorders under the category of phobias include:
Social Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with social anxiety disorder have intense anxiety regarding social situations and interactions, which leads to avoiding social situations altogether.
Individuals with agoraphobia experience fear of certain situations such as being in enclosed or open spaces, using public transportation, standing in line, or going outside of their home by themselves. Part of this fear might be associated with having panic attacks or experiencing symptoms of panic.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Individuals with separation anxiety disorder experience fear or worry about being separated from people they feel attached to or are left alone from. They often fear that something bad will happen or the person they are attached to will be harmed while separated.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, you can work with a therapist to help!
Treating Anxiety With A Therapist
Therapists are qualified professionals who have studied mental health and practice certain techniques to help individuals resolve issues.
‘Therapist’ is a general term for mental health professionals, but they are also referred to as counselors, psychologists, and social workers. These professionals have different titles depending on their education. However, they all typically learn several different techniques that help individuals with anxiety-like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some therapists or counselors study or take extra training in therapies for particular disorders.
You can always inquire about your therapist or counselor’s education, credentials, and specialty to understand more about the work you are doing together during sessions.
Working with a qualified therapist will help you manage and, in some cases, resolve symptoms of anxiety disorders. Therapists are trained in evidence-based techniques to teach you how to change thoughts and behaviors that will improve your ability to manage feelings like worry, fear, and panic that are often associated with anxiety disorders.
However, your therapeutic treatment will be unique to your needs, symptoms, and specific anxiety disorder. This means your therapist will teach you coping skills that are most helpful to you. It is always a collaborative effort between the therapist and client to find the strategies that will work best for you.
If you are experiencing a generalized anxiety disorder, your treatment may be different than for someone experiencing panic disorder.
Here are some proven strategies you might expect to learn from your counselor in therapy:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a common and effective form of therapy for anxiety disorders. In working with your therapist in CBT, you can expect to identify and examine the negative thoughts contributing to your anxiety. You will also identify and examine behaviors that trigger anxiety. Once negative thoughts and behaviors are identified, there are strategies you will learn to challenge and change those negative thought patterns.
Some of the things you might learn are:
Cognitive reframing: Cognitive reframing is also sometimes referred to as cognitive restructuring and reappraisal of ruminating thoughts. It’s a system of challenging unhelpful thoughts or thought distortions and creating new, more helpful ways of thinking. If you can change your point-of-view, you can change the thought and therefore change the behavior.
Thought stopping: There are several techniques you can learn from your therapist regarding thought stopping. Thought stopping is a strategy in which you will use something to stop the thoughts contributing to your anxiousness, like saying “stop” out loud, counting in your head, or using another distraction to interrupt the thought and redirect to a more positive thought.
Cognitive based mindfulness: Studies suggest this type of therapy may be beneficial in treating generalized anxiety disorder. Mindfulness includes learning different techniques that reduce stress, help you focus on the present moment, and increase relaxation. Practicing strategies like mindfulness meditation gives the body a chance to relax, recover from fight-or-flight reactions, and relieve anxiety symptoms.
This is just a shortlist of possible strategies you might use while working with your therapist or counselor! Always communicate with your therapist about what strategies seem to work best, and if there is something else you’d like to explore.
Washington Psychological Wellness offers therapy services from professional psychologists, counselors, and social workers trained in treating anxiety disorders. They have a wealth of information that can be used to help you with anxiety and other mental health-related issues.