It’s normal to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious or nervous if you have to tackle a problem at work, go to an interview, take a test or make an important decision. In some cases, anxiety can even be beneficial. It can help us notice dangerous situations and focus our attention so that we stay safe.
An anxiety disorder, however, goes beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear you may feel from time to time and is considered a mental health condition. Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can raise a person’s risk for developing anxiety disorders. One may be at higher risk if they have or had:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the U.S. They affect about 40 million Americans. They happen to nearly 30 percent of adults at some point. Anxiety disorders most often begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.
Anxiety disorders are like other forms of mental illness. They arise from a combination of factors that play a role:
Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have. General symptoms of an anxiety disorder include physical, mental and behavioral symptoms.
Physical symptoms of anxiety:
Mental symptoms of anxiety:
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety:
There are several major types of anxiety disorders that can be treated using therapeutic approaches, including:
Regardless of the specific disorder, the underlying processes that drive them often follow a similar pattern. People with anxiety tend to react to unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and situations in a more extreme way and may try to manage those reactions by avoiding triggers. Unfortunately, this type of avoidance only serves to reinforce fears and worries. Most modern types of therapy address negative thinking and avoidance to help you manage your anxiety.
In some cases, medications have a role in treating anxiety disorders. But for many, therapy—alone or in combination with medication—is the most effective treatment option. The reason being that therapy, unlike medication, gives you the tools to manage the anxiety yourself, now and in the future.
Different therapeutic techniques have been developed to treat anxiety and have evolved over time from psychoanalytic approaches to the newest cognitive behavioral therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. Research has found it to be effective in treating SAD, GAD, phobias, and panic disorders, among other conditions. The premise of CBT is that your thoughts—not your current situation—affect how you feel and subsequently behave. The goal of CBT is to identify and understand your negative thinking and ineffective behavior patterns and replace them with more effective thoughts, actions and coping mechanisms. Once you start to recognize your anxiety and your triggers, you can learn to apply the coping skills that you learn in CBT to manage fear, panic, and worry.
Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Disorders
Exposure therapy is one of the most common CBT methods used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, SAD, and PTSD. The basic premise behind exposure therapy is that if you’re afraid of something, the best way to conquer it is head-on. During exposure therapy, your therapist will introduce you to anxiety-producing objects or situations. This is often done using a technique known as “systematic desensitization,” which involves three steps:
Relax: Your therapist will teach you relaxation training to help combat your anxiety. Examples of relaxation training include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and guided imagery.
List: Create a list of your anxiety-provoking triggers, ranking them in terms of intensity.
Expose: In this final step, you’ll gradually work your way through your listed anxiety-provoking objects or situations, using the relaxation techniques when necessary.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a highly effective type of therapy. Originally used to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT is now used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety. DBT focuses on helping you develop what seems like a dialectical or opposite outlook, acceptance, and change. During DBT treatment, you’ll learn to both accept your anxiety all the while actively working to change it. It’s similar to the notion of loving yourself the way you are, while still trying to change yourself for the better.
DBT treatment teaches four powerful skills:
Look for a trained mental health professional who specializes in treatment for anxiety disorders. Your mental healthcare provider will evaluate your circumstances and specific behaviors to determine the overall approach to treatment.
Anxiety disorders can often go undiagnosed and untreated. The right treatment can help improve your quality of life, relationships and productivity. It can also support your overall well-being. You don’t need to live with constant worry and fear. If you notice symptoms of an anxiety disorder, talk to your healthcare provider. It’s best to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible to limit the problems that anxiety disorders can cause.
There are several steps you can take to cope with anxiety disorder symptoms. These strategies can also make your treatment more effective:
A common misunderstanding about therapy is that you’ll immediately start to feel better. Sometimes this is the case. But sometimes, you feel worse before you start feeling better- a sign of progress. Therapy involves exploring your anxiety and the reasons behind it in a deeper, more meaningful way. This can cause a temporary spike in your anxiety. Therapy should never be thought of as a quick fix. It’s a process that’s unique to each individual. The type of therapy you need, the skills, that you learn, and how long you’re in therapy depends entirely on the type of anxiety you have and the severity of your symptoms.
At Healing Minds, we have therapists that can help you deal with mental health issues and anxiety disorders. Working with a therapist can make the difference you need to step towards a full, whole life once again. Take charge of your anxiety and stress before it takes over your health and well-being. We thank you for taking the time to learn more about anxiety and stress management.