Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.
Experiencing bouts of anxiety here and there is a very normal emotion to experience and is rarely cause for stress or concern. In fact, humans are biologically wired to experience anxiety and 'fight or flight' when faced with a dangerous situation. This has become essential to our survival. Feelings of anxiety can reach a level where there is too much anxiety, and it is no longer healthy. If an individual lives in a constant state of fear, stress, and apprehension, it can affect the body emotionally, mentally and in severe cases physically. They can have symptoms such as high blood pressure or panic attacks. This can have a debilitating effect on their life and hinder them from doing and enjoying normal, everyday activities.
When anxiety reaches this type of level; chances are high the individual has developed a type of Anxiety Disorder. Several different mental disorders fall within the category of "Anxiety Disorder," and approximately forty million people in the United States alone suffer from one or more of these disorders.
While dozens of disorders can be categorized as an Anxiety Disorder, the US Department of Health & Human Services lists out the five most common and most major type of anxiety disorder as:
Thankfully, as serious and crippling as some of these conditions can become, most types of anxiety can easily be treated with a high degree of success using medication, therapy or a combination of both. Studies have shown that while medication can be a helpful solution for the immediate present, psychotherapy is a far better treatment path to follow and will be more effective in the long term. Most therapists and mental health professionals will recommend therapy as the first course of action in treating anxiety, saving the use of medications as a last resort if all else fails.
If experiencing some form of anxiety is normal, how can you know if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder? Some recurring physical and emotional signs and symptoms to watch out for include the following:
If any of these symptoms sound or feel familiar to you, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at what's happening in your life and examine your emotions on a deeper level. As we go through our day to day life, it is normal to experience some of these emotions sporadically. If you find yourself having more bad days than good or find that most of what you experience daily is aligned with these symptoms, it's time to speak to your doctor. Some people also choose to use online screening tools as a way to kick-start the process. Keep in mind online tools and quizzes should not be used for a medical diagnosis.
Depending on where you live, the first point of contact to get help may be your family doctor. Be honest and truthful about your symptoms. Remember there is no shame in what you are experiencing, and the sooner you get help, the sooner you can start treatment. Your doctor will listen to you, and run some tests before referring you to the appropriate mental health professional. Once a proper diagnosis has been rendered, your therapist will work with you on a treatment plan and course of action, which will more than likely begin with psychotherapy sessions.
The most common and leading types of therapy used to treat anxiety are, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy:
CBT is the preferred type of therapy since it tends to yield faster and more effective results and requires less time than other types of therapy. It follows a specific structure with a clear format and a fewer amount of sessions. The mental health therapist will meet with the patient and based on the situation will create an appropriate treatment plan - How often should you meet? How long should the sessions last? What do you want to achieve? - focusing on a specific problem with a set goal to achieve.
What CBT aims to do is change the way the patient approaches and looks at things so that instead of having negative thoughts or viewing something through a specific lens, the patient can look at and analyze a situation from all angles and therefore handle it more effectively.
There are four steps to achieving this positive outcome with CBT:
For someone dealing with anxiety, CBT will help them understand their negative, fear-inducing thoughts in a new way and provide them with the necessary tools. Over time, when they find themselves in an anxiety-inducing situation, they can take a step back and manage the situation in a positive manner.
While CBT is generally used to treat a mental illness or disorder, anyone going through any kind of stressful situation in their life can benefit enormously from CBT. It provides you with tools on how to better cope with stressful life events or anxiety.
This style of therapy does what the name suggests; it exposes the patient to the things they fear and feel anxiety towards. Generally, when individuals are fearful of something, they do their best to avoid it and stay far away from it.
With exposure therapy, you are facing your fears. This is in the hopes that through repeated exposure, you will no longer have the same fears or anxieties. You will be able to take control over those fears so that they no longer rule your life. This will help diminish your anxiety and stress. For example, if you have severe anxiety when you have to drive, as part of exposure therapy your therapist may ask you to look at pictures of cars. Next you may be asked to go outside and look at a car in person. Weeks down the road, you might be asked to sit in a car in the parking lot. Each step builds upon a prior success. The culmination of this therapeutic intervention might be to go for a drive with the therapist in the car.
While CBT and Exposure Therapy are two of the most popular types of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety, the therapist may suggest other types of therapies and activities such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness activities, etc. as a way to complement and bolster the effects of the main treatment plan.
Suffering from anxiety or an anxiety disorder does not have to be crippling or scary or become a handicap. Nor does it have to bring your life to a standstill. With timely action and the right type of intervention and help, it is possible to get your life back on track, and the best way to do so is to start with psychotherapy.
It cannot be stressed enough that for psychotherapy to be effective, both the patient and therapist need to put in a fair amount of work and be committed to succeed. It is important to always be open and honest with your therapist about your successes as well as failures and to follow through with the treatment plan to the best of your abilities. It's okay to fail, and it's okay to feel discouraged, but as long as you keep going, you will eventually see results.
The first and most difficult step is recognizing there is an issue, understanding that this is a battle you cannot fight or beat on your own and finding the courage to seek out the appropriate help. If your anxiety is hindering you from enjoying your life to its fullest or affecting your relationships with family, friends and loved ones, consider speaking to a doctor or mental health professional. If you're not quite ready to speak to someone in person yet, plenty of resources are available on the Internet, including online therapy.
So consider seeing a psychotherapist who can delve into the heart of the matter and provide you with the necessary skills and tools so you can master your emotions; conquer your fears and lead a happy, normal, healthy, successful life.