Do you struggle with a sense of constant dread? A rapid heartbeat? If you've decided to seek help for anxiety, you may wonder which therapist is best suited to guide you through this journey of healing and growth. In this blog, I explore the essential considerations when choosing an anxiety therapist, along with five effective treatments for anxiety and answers to common questions about anxiety, therapy, triggers, and more.
What Are Some Effective Treatments for Anxiety?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized and evidence-based approach for managing anxiety. It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety, promoting healthier coping strategies.
For example, if I were to work with CBT, it may look like this. Mandy, a 30-year-old marketing professional, has been struggling with anxiety for several years. She often finds herself overwhelmed by worry and fear, especially before important work presentations or social events. These anxious thoughts lead to physical symptoms like a racing heart and sweaty palms, making her feel even more uneasy.
During our sessions, I notice Mandy has a strong negative thought pattern that fuels her anxiety, such as "I'm going to mess up the presentation and embarrass myself" or "People will think I'm awkward and incompetent."
Through CBT, Mandy learns to challenge these negative thoughts by examining the evidence for and against them. I encourage her to consider past successful presentations and instances where people appreciated her contributions. This helps her to develop a more balanced and realistic perspective, leading to decreased anxiety before presentations.
Exposure Therapy is a treatment involving gradually and safely facing anxiety triggers, helping you develop resilience and reduce the fear response over time.
In the context of anxiety, Prolonged Exposure works by gradually exposing clients to situations, objects, or thoughts that trigger their anxiety. This exposure is done in a safe and controlled environment. The exposure can be real, where you may confront the actual situations or triggers, or imagined, where they vividly imagine the feared situations.
For example, if a client is feeling uneasy about a medical treatment coming up, and they have a major fear of needles, this may be a helpful treatment for them.
The exposure process aims to break the cycle of avoidance of needles and fear, which is keeping that anxiety alive. Avoidance of anxiety triggers may provide temporary relief, but it reinforces the belief that the trigger is dangerous and that anxiety is necessary for protection. Through controlled exposure, clients learn that the feared situations are not as dangerous as perceived and that their anxiety will naturally decrease over time and that they have the tools to cope with something that felt unbearable in the past.
Mindfulness Practices and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
My personal favorite. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy helps process traumatic memories, reducing their emotional impact, while mindfulness practices provide tools to stay grounded and centered in the present.
Let's consider Alex, who experienced a traumatic event that left him with persistent anxiety and intrusive thoughts. He often feels overwhelmed by his emotions, leading to difficulty in daily functioning.
During therapy sessions, Alex learns mindfulness techniques to anchor himself in the present moment. He practices deep breathing and body scans to become more aware of his bodily sensations and emotions. This newfound awareness helps Alex recognize when anxiety starts to build and allows him to respond to it in a non-reactive and compassionate way.
In parallel, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy helps Alex process the traumatic memories underlying his anxiety. Through guided exercises, he safely explores the emotions and physical sensations associated with the trauma. This helps Alex identify and release the stored tension in his body, allowing him to gradually reduce the emotional charge linked to the traumatic event.
Is Anxiety a Form of Mental Illness?
Well, anxiety can be considered a mental health condition, though I wouldn’t call it an illness. It is a natural response to stress, but when it becomes overwhelming and disrupts daily functioning, it may be classified as an anxiety disorder, which is a DSM diagnosis.
"During therapy sessions, Alex learns mindfulness techniques to anchor himself in the present moment. He practices deep breathing and body scans to become more aware of his bodily sensations and emotions. This newfound awareness helps Alex recognize when anxiety starts to build and allows him to respond to it in a non-reactive and compassionate way"
Imagine anxiety as an internal alarm system designed to protect you from potential threats. Like a smoke detector that alerts you to fire, anxiety signals when something might be challenging or risky. It's a normal and necessary part of being human. However, sometimes this alarm system can become overly sensitive, going off even when there is no real danger. When anxiety becomes intense, persistent, and starts affecting your ability to handle everyday situations, it may be considered an anxiety disorder. It's like the smoke detector going off at the slightest hint of smoke, making it hard to relax and enjoy life. In such cases, seeking help from a therapist can help recalibrate this alarm system and regain control over your emotions and daily life.
So how do you know if your system is overly sensitive? Some hits could be
- Excessive Worry
- Avoidance of certain situations, places, or activities due to fear and anxiety, even if they were previously enjoyable or necessary
- Experiencing physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, stomach discomfort, or muscle tension in response to stress or anxiety triggers
- Difficulty Relaxing
- Frequent trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares related to stressful situations.
- Jumping to the worst-case scenario in your mind
- Overanalyzing and obsessing about minor decisions or events, leading to a cycle of rumination.
- Finding that anxiety interferes with your ability to concentrate, work, study, or maintain relationships.
- Noticing an increase in physical health issues like headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain that may be related to stress and anxiety.
- Feeling highly uncomfortable with uncertain situations and needing excessive reassurance from others
Okay, So Say I Do Have Anxiety, How Many Therapy Sessions Will I Need?
The number of therapy sessions required for anxiety varies from person to person. You may experience significant relief in a few sessions, or may benefit from longer-term therapy. The duration of therapy depends on the severity of symptoms, how you define success and how self compassionate you are about your journey.
Is Anxiety Developed or Genetic?
Anxiety can result from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. While some individuals may have a genetic vulnerability to anxiety, life experiences and environmental stressors can also contribute to its development. I believe strongly that Generational Trauma can also be a big contributor to anxiety. Generational trauma refers to the transmission of trauma and its effects across successive generations. When trauma is experienced by one generation, it can impact their coping mechanisms and emotional well-being, and these effects may be passed down to their children and grandchildren.
For example, if grandma was taught to shove all issues under the rug, then grandchild likely has experienced a level of distortion. Did that really happen? Why do they say it’s okay when in my body it doesn’t feel that way?
In conclusion, anxiety can be a natural response to stress, but when it becomes overwhelming and disrupts daily functioning, it may be something you need more support with. Understanding the signs of anxiety, such as excessive worry, physical symptoms, and difficulty relaxing, can be the first step in seeking support and healing.