Anxiety is Invisible.
Yet 40 million American adults suffer from this condition
Anxiety continues to be misunderstood by the general population even though it is the most common mental illness in this country.
There is a big difference between the kind of anxiety that comes from an external event, such as a meeting with one’s boss or a final exam, and the constant worry that gets in the way of daily functioning. Anxiety treatment helps with both.
It is hard for people who have never experienced it to understand what is happening inside the anxious mind and why it’s impossible to just “calm down”. Perhaps externally a simple conversation is taking place about where to go for lunch, and yet it is extremely discouraging to be silently obsessing about horrible things while everyone else is chatting about the new little Italian restaurant.
Anxiety Treatment Works
According to the NIH, about 18% of American adults suffer from anxiety disorders in a given year. Symptoms of anxiety range from the physical (increased heart rate, sweating, muscle tension), to the mental (all-or-nothing thinking, constant worry and fear of losing control) and emotional (irritability, hopelessness, nervousness). Anxiety impacts all of one’s life and relationships, causing people to avoid social situations or activities that they truly enjoy.
Anxiety is irrational, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
Most people know that worrying doesn’t solve anything, and would stop if they could. At the same time, it can be confusing, because we start to think that we need to “prepare for the worst”. Constant worriers expect bad things to happen and good things are hard to enjoy for fear that “the other shoe will drop”.
Take a look at this list of cognitive distortions.
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Negative predictions
- Making “mountains out of molehills”
Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that cause severe distress. Being able to identify the thoughts is one of the first steps in anxiety treatment.
Anxious thoughts keep millions of people awake at night. It’s difficult to make decisions, even if other people would consider them minor. We wonder what our friends and colleagues think of us, and it’s never good. In this state of mind we assume that people are judging us, forgetting that it is much more likely that other people are daydreaming about their date last night, planning their grocery list or perhaps even worrying that people think they are weird.
A vicious cycle occurs in which people are desperately trying to “just let things go”, and then self-blame follows, “What’s the matter with me, why can’t I just stop worrying?”, and then the anxiety increases as we tell ourselves to “just stop”, but we are incapable of stopping. At that point the cycle is spiraling wider as the fear of the fear builds upon the original worry.
The importance of a thorough assessment as the first phase of Anxiety treatment
Is a professional really necessary? Friends and family members want to help their loved ones, but they often unknowingly make it worse. In an attempt to provide comfort people say things like “You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” These comments are words that are already battling inside the anxious mind. The self-critic then believes even more strongly that he or she “should” be able to just turn off the worry switch.
Friends are great for talking through minor external stressors, but they are not qualified to diagnose or substitute a professional who specializes in anxiety treatment.
There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders and each has distinct symptoms and different treatment recommendations. Among the most common are: Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder), Specific Phobias (ie fear of flying or fear of throwing up), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Often these words are thrown around as adjectives, and it is tempting to self-diagnose by googling symptoms or taking on-line tests.
Main Line Counseling Partners encourages anyone who believes that he or she may have one of these disorders to seek a professional for evaluation. Assessment can be done by a psychologist, clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, psychiatrist, or other licensed mental health professional. It usually takes one to two hours for an initial assessment, and sometimes more testing is recommended.
What if anxiety treatment doesn’t work? What if talking about it makes it worse? What if no one can really help? I’m a worrier and have been my whole life, it is just who I am.
The phrase, “What if…” is probably the worst enemy for someone who worries a lot. The decision to schedule an anxiety assessment will feel risky, because all new things are risky, and since we cannot predict the future, there are no satisfying answers to the questions that start with “what if”. In addition, many people have had bad experiences with therapy in the past, perhaps they were forced to see someone as a child, or they have heard horror stories from friends.
Also, there is a widely accepted assumption that people who go to therapy are sitting on a couch and “whining about their problems”. We are a society that supports self-sufficiency, especially when it comes to emotions. People often think, “I should be able to handle this on my own.”
If someone wants to improve their tennis game they will most likely take a class or private lesson with an expert. Of course they could go to the court and teach themselves, and would probably make progress, but not as efficiently as with a coach. People hire experts in anxiety treatment to learn skills and techniques from people who have spent their lives mastering their expertise.
No one can guarantee that any treatment, for any disease, will succeed, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has helped many people manage and overcome anxiety. Remember that anxiety goes hand in hand with a negative outlook. It is normal to think that your anxiety will never go away. Therefore, starting therapy, or even emailing a therapist to request a phone conversation will be anxiety-triggering as anything new and unknown would be. Making an appointment to speak with a therapist in spite of your fear is the first step toward managing your anxiety.
Anxiety is a treatable illness
If assessment indicates that an anxiety disorder is present, there are many different options for treatment that have been well-researched and helpful to millions of people. In addition to exercise and proper nutrition, psychotherapy and medication have also been proven to provide relief from all of the different forms worry and obsession can take.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of anxiety treatment that examines the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to help the patient change patterns of self-destructive thinking and learn coping skills. Therapists who practice CBT are solution-focused and goal-directed in their approach to each patient’s situation and symptoms.
Clients take an active role in their own recovery, thereby lessening the feelings of helplessness and paralysis that anxiety may create. This approach is brief and structured. In the more than thirty years of CBT’s existence, researchers have performed meta-analyses (in which the results of numerous studies are examined) on the effectiveness of CBT, and in each analysis CBT has been proven effective at treating anxiety and other disorders. Psychodynamic Therapy is an effective option. This approach focuses more on building a solid supportive relationship between therapist and client.
When clients feel connected and understood they are able to find more compassion for themselves. As the self-judgement is replaced by kindness and gentle change, clients are able to enjoy their lives again. Some people benefit from taking medicine along with psychotherapy. Research shows that the combination of the two is the most effective treatment for moderate to severe anxiety.
Many people choose to try psychotherapy alone first, knowing that they can add medicine if needed. Main Line Counseling Partners has specialists in Cognitive Behavioral and Psychodynamic Therapy. We work closely with psychiatrists in the community if our clients are on or considering medicine.
Why choose Main Line Counseling Partners?
All of our therapists have over ten years of experience successfully helping people find relief from anxiety. You can choose from a 6-week program designed to help you learn new coping skills as quickly as possible, or a more gradual approach for ongoing support.
Many people can take workshops and learn how to do CBT, but it is more of an art than a science, and above all else, a very important relationship develops which creates an atmosphere of safety, hope and comfort. It is important to feel comfortable creating a working relationship together. Dr. Michael Silverstein is our CBT expert. Click here to schedule a 15 minute phone consult to speak to Dr. Silverstein about your options.
Not ready for a phone conversation?
It can be intimidating to reach out to a professional, especially for people who are undecided about their next steps. The good news is that there are many free, easy things you can do to start managing your anxiety including exercise, a good sleep routine and proper nutrition.
One of the most effective natural treatments for anxiety is Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It is a process of sensing and relaxing the different muscle groups in your body. Click here for a 7 Minute Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise. Actress Jennie Grace Gonglewski will have you feeling more relaxed right now! Done regularly, this type of exercise has been found to help medical issues such as lower blood pressure and colitis.