Do you find yourself feeling anxious most of the day?
Are worries preventing you from falling asleep?
Have you experienced periods where you were almost frozen with panic?
Do you avoid social situations because they cause too much anxiety?
If the answer to one or more of the above questions is yes, then you may have an anxiety disorder. If so, you are not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most frequent problem that cause people to seek psychological assistance, occurring in 18% of the adult population. The good news is that these disorders are highly treatable through cognitive-behavioral therapy.
What causes anxiety?
We are all hard wired with three responses to stress: fight, flight, and freeze. These were environmentally adaptive for our ancestors, so they have been passed on to us through our genes. Most people can easily understand how fight and flight could help animals and early humans cope with predators, but what about freeze? When a deer stands very still (freezes) in the woods, it’s camouflage is most effective. When a mouse detects that a snake has entered its lair, if it freezes the snake may not be able to detect it and the mouse will survive. So freezing in response to stress has an adaptive function, but for some people they inherited a combination of genes that cause them to feel heightened stress, worry, and even freeze all too often.
How can it be treated?
Anxiety is caused by underlying thoughts that scare us. When we have these thoughts, they cause us high levels of anxiety. To cope with these upsetting thoughts, we often try to push them away. But all too often we are left with the anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches clients ways to cope with both the underlying thoughts and the physical sensations of anxiety. I start by teaching my clients relaxation techniques so they have some ways to reduce the anxiety. Then we move to exploring the underlying thoughts, often irrational ones, that cause the stress. As clients learn to use these tools to reduce the power of the scary thoughts, their anxiety level diminishes. They are then able to tolerate situations that were previously intolerable. And one of the strange things about anxiety is that if you can tolerate anxiety for a period of time, your anxiety will gradually diminish.
How long does treatment take?
For most people, cognitive behavior therapy is a short-term (10-20 sessions) treatment wherein they learn the skills to cope with their overactive “worry gene.” The length of treatment depends upon the severity of the anxiety and the client’s willingness to actively participate in the treatment by completing regular homework assignments. The more you work at learning the skills, the faster your anxiety will resolve.
Are there different types of anxiety?
Yes. I specialize in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder. GAD is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about various life situations where the fear is often out of proportion to the actual situation. Individuals with GAD find that their worries that awful things will happen interfere with their work, school, and relationships. Individuals with social anxiety fear that they will be judged negatively by others and rejected. It often leads people to avoid connections with others even though they are very lonely.
There are other types of anxiety disorders that are more severe, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals with OCD experience repetitive, interfering thoughts and actions that the individual knows make no sense, but they feel helpless not to follow them. For example, an individual with OCD may constantly check locks or light switches, repetitively wash their hands, or have to always walk in a certain pattern. PTSD is characterized by overwhelming anxiety, including flashbacks and nightmares, from a prior trauma such as military combat, rape, or a serious accident. I do not treat individuals with OCD or PTSD, but will be happy to refer you to specialists who do.