About Anxiety To experience anxiety is to be human.  Anxiety is our natural physical response when we encounter something threatening, stressful, or find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation.  “Normal” anxiety can help us be more alert and prepared to cope with a stress-provoking situation.  For example, if you’ve ever found yourself worried about an upcoming test, job interview, or speech you are going to make, you might experience preoccupation or a flutter in your stomach as the body reacts to the increased stress.  Once the stressful event is over, the anxiety is, as well.  This is not the case for individuals who suffer from an anxiety disorder.  The physical and mental reactions to anxiety can be much more powerful and not dissipate, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed, of having little to no control over thoughts and feelings, and disruptive physical symptoms, all of which negatively impact daily life.  For these individuals anxiety is not experienced as a normal part of being human, but rather a powerful force that can disrupt things like job or school performance, self-confidence, relationships, and overall life functioning. “You don’t have to control your thoughts.  You just have to stop letting them control you.” - Dan Millman Anxiety disorders are among the most common diagnosed mental illnesses in our country, with numbers estimated at around 40 million sufferers.  Some conditions associated with anxiety include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder; Social Anxiety Disorder; Panic Disorder; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Separation Anxiety; and, Phobia.  Read more about these disorders and their symptoms at the National Institute of Mental Health’s website. Willpower does not eliminate anxiety.  It is important to know that anxiety experienced at this level has nothing to do with willpower and absolutely does not mean a person is weak because he/she can’t “let it go and relax.”  Powerful biochemical responses in the brain are occurring that prevent an individual from being able to choose to just switch off the anxiety.  Anxiety, like stress, sets off the fight or flight response, and rather than returning to a state of stasis or balance following the stressful or threatening event, an individual with an anxiety disorder remains in this heightened physical and mental state.  Anxiety is the continued internal experience even in the absence of an actual threat or stressor. What causes anxiety?  There can be many potential origins of anxiety disorders ranging from nature (genetics) to nurture (one’s environment).  Some researchers believe there is a genetic pre-disposition to be wired for anxiety, such as family history of anxiety or other mental illnesses.  Other factors may include experiencing or witnessing trauma; brief or prolonged exposure to stress; personality factors, such as perfectionism or shyness; thinking habits, such as pessimism or excessive worrying; damaged self-esteem; substance abuse; or, physical health problems like diabetes, asthma, or hypertension.  Having an over-active thyroid can also mimic symptoms of anxiety and it is important to be checked by a medical professional to rule out any physical conditions that may be linked with anxiety. Anxiety is treatable.  It is possible to feel better and to get your life back on a normal track.  Some of the treatment approaches I use with individuals struggling with anxiety include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – You take a pro-active role in learning strategies for changing thinking and behavior patterns.  This approach gives you hands-on, practical steps for improving self-confidence, a sense of control, and coping skills you can use throughout your life. Mindfulness-based stress reduction – This approach enables you to change your relationship with your thoughts leading to greater control over your emotions.  Practicing tools for mindfulness and relaxation can result in lessened racing thoughts and worry with enhanced ability to manage and react to anxiety more effectively. Clinical Hypnotherapy – Hypnotherapy can be a supportive technique used during therapy to help you gain a sense of control and normality over your emotions.  You can learn to access the calm state of mind needed to overcome anxiety-provoking emotions and use positive suggestions to overcome fears or habits of intense worrying.  Hypnotherapy can help you understand what triggers your anxiety and how to cope when you start to feel anxious. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) – This evidence-based approach evolved through helping people suffering with PTSD, and has since been applied to other mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression.  This method utilizes eye movements to help the brain process disturbing material in a less distressing way.  Individuals often experience a reduction in emotional symptoms to complement ongoing therapeutic change work. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – This therapy teaches skills to effectively cope with painful feelings and thoughts while accepting what is out of one’s control and committing to change what is within the realm of one’s potential.  ACT helps you get back in touch with your personal values to help you commit to making behavioral changes that work for you and what matters to you instead of remaining trapped in patterns of avoidance that do not work. Medication therapies may be discussed in support of counseling and referred for psychiatric care if desired and when appropriate.
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