What is it? Why do we have it? What can we do about it?
Anxiety is described by the National Institute of Mental Health as a “normal” response to life experiences that involve new challenges and important decisions. The American Psychiatric Association echoes this idea, citing anxiety as a “typical” reaction to stressful situations. They even note benefit in states of stress or anxiety for the power to raise our awareness and attention to alert us to possible danger in the environment – those moments when adrenalin pumps to promote our ability for quick response to keep us safe from harm. If you saw a bear, you would appreciate the great benefit of having body systems designed to ‘pump you up and get you out of there.’
Fortunately, the body is also built to counter stress and anxiety when an emergency is over so you can return to a state of calm. In this very demanding and complex world, however, we can find our stress and anxiety running continuously high. It is this excessive or persistent anxiety that hinders our life, detracts from our health, and makes each day far from enjoyable. This all too common experience of ongoing stress and anxiety is what drives many to seek therapy, and with good reason. The very symptoms of anxiety, which include worry, indecisiveness, and inability to gather a clear thought, can prevent us from finding clear solution.
What is anxiety?
Symptoms of anxiety can range from vague feelings of unease and worry, to ongoing stress, irritability, anger, and panic states that leave you overwhelmed and exhausted. Some may even experience sleepless nights or begin to use food, sleeping pills, alcohol, or other substances to deal with life, which then risks dependency and addiction, with further decline in health – all of which only adds to anxiety and stress.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America cites anxiety disorders as the most common mental health struggle, “affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” Yet they further state that “only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment” despite the fact that anxiety disorders are “highly treatable.” When anxiety has reached unmanageable proportions such that it’s taking over your enjoyment of life, it’s worth seeking consultation with an expert.
Treatment for anxiety:
A therapist knowledgeable in treating anxiety can help you accurately pinpoint sources of stress to help you clearly identify the type of anxiety you are experiencing so you can make the most effective choices for treatment. There are many “evidence-based treatments” for anxiety, which means there is much research and support behind a method that says it works well for many. Some of the most well-known and popular therapy approaches include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): This approach encourages you to look at thoughts and behaviors that generate anxiety so you can change those thoughts and behaviors and gain new perspectives that counter anxiety.
- Mindfulness: These strategies focus on being more aware of your present-moment and methods that help you achieve greater calm in that moment. A therapist can teach you many techniques that, with practice, help you manage the physiological experiences created by anxiety so you can foster your own sense of calm.
- Interpersonal approaches: These focus on the nature of our relationships for the purpose of becoming more aware of interactions and communications that fuel versus reduce conflict, as well as strategies for building more satisfactory interactions with others.
- Stress Management: These approaches focus on reducing stress by promoting greater efficiency and sense of well-being in each day though techniques that include: time management, problem-solving, assertive communication, effective limit-setting, relaxation exercises, sleep hygiene, physical exercise, and healthy diet choices.
Many successful approaches exist to reduce anxiety. A therapist who specializes in such treatment can help you identify a path that is right for you and your situation. In addition to therapy strategies, a therapist can also advise you on the use of medications and which present risk for addiction so you can avoid a tempting ‘quick fix’ that only brings more problems. A therapist can also help you find proper referrals for medication and educate you on useful questions to ask a professional to ensure you are making well-informed choices. If you are struggling with anxiety, it’s to your benefit to seek the advice of an expert to start making life more manageable and enjoyable.
American Psychiatric Association
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
National Institute of Mental Health