Can Anxiety Treatment Help You?
What is it you truly desire in your life and is anxiety getting in the way?
What might be different in your life a year from now if your anxiety could be addressed at a very deep level?
You may not have given much thought to those 2 important questions and that’s okay. I’d like you to read the rest of what I’ve written here and then go back and see what you think when you read those 2 questions again.
Did you know that anxiety and anxiety disorders are two different things? Actually, just because you feel anxious some of the time does not necessarily mean that you need treatment at all.
Anxiety is something we all feel some of the time, and mental health treatment is really only indicated when a person experiences too much or too little conscious anxiety (anxiety that you are aware of), so that your anxiety is causing negative consequences – for example, getting in the way of your ability to do the things you want to do, to take healthy risks, and to realistically appraise safety and danger in different situations so that you can act accordingly.
So, what is anxiety anyway?
Well, for starters, anxiety is a set of signals that your nervous system sends you to alert you that there is some danger that you need to attend to.
In general, a person’s nervous system is wired to send him different types of signals when it registers that there is a threat or danger present: physical, cognitive, and emotional.
For example, our bodies may physically prepare us to fight or run, through a series of physical sensations and chemical reactions, causing physical signs of anxiety such as increased heart rate, body temperature changes, and bursts of adrenaline or energy.
We also get emotional cues from our bodies, such as a feeling of fear together with an instinct to run or escape, for example.
And, there are also cognitive changes or cues that help us deal with danger; for example, it is harder to think logically when we are in danger because we need to act without thinking too much and so the logical part of the brain gets shut down to some degree when danger is sensed.
So, when is anxiety a problem?
Well, your nervous system may send you false alarms at times. For example, your brain might think that supermarkets are dangerous and send you a whole set of signals each time you think about approaching a supermarket, alerting you to “stay away”. Assuming that there is nothing more dangerous about your local supermarket than any other ordinary situation, this anxiety will stop you from being able to do an everyday activity such as grocery shopping- when there is really no rational reason for you to be afraid of this situation. It’s simply a false alarm that your brain is sending you. Learning to recognize and respond to false alarms is something that is addressed in anxiety treatment. In fact, much of what we will do in treatment involves recognizing FALSE ALARMS as well as MISUNDERSTOOD ALARM SIGNALS so that you can interact more effectively with yourself and your environment. Anxiety is often a signal of an unconscious conflict or emotion that is experienced as dangerous. It will take time, but together we can discover what your unconscious is REALLY trying to tell you about yourself.
Another problem happens when you lose your ability to judge which situations are safe and which ones are dangerous. This may be a result of life experiences you have had that conditioned you to react to ordinary safe experiences with a sense of threat. For example, is it common for people to feel safe in relationships with their family members. However, if you were abused or hurt by a family member, you may no longer view family members as safe. You may also continue to feel unsafe and insecure around supportive and safe family members or significant others in your present life because you simply don’t know the difference between people who are safe and people who aren’t. Anxiety treatment can help you to recalibrate your reactions to people and situations.
Anxiety can also stop us from taking action in situations where the risks are relatively low or when worrying or “over-thinking” won’t actually solve anything. Similarly, anxiety can be a problem when it leads to unhealthy avoidance of people, places, and things in our lives. Having a life that gets more and more constricted because of fear is no fun at all, and treatment can help!
If you’re anxious, you may also have a very big fear of the unknown. You prefer to stay in your comfort zone and choose that which is familiar rather than taking healthy risks that can enrich your life. If this sounds familiar to you, then you probably know what I mean when I say that some people really crave certainty. You might wish you could know ahead of time whether you’re making the right choices, or you may spend hours analyzing your decisions or obsessing over things you’ve said or done. Sometimes you get so stuck in your head that you can barely do the things you need to do to live a functional life.
There are many different types of anxiety and worries that people seek anxiety treatment for.
Some people worry a lot about losing control of their bodies. They think a lot about things that seem wrong with their bodies, worry about getting sick, and wonder if there is something physically wrong that they aren’t aware of. They may also be afraid of losing control, like having a panic attack or throwing up at unexpected times- times when they are not prepared.
Other people worry about social situations. They fear rejection or criticism and have anxieties about whether they will perform well enough in social settings to avoid judgment or criticism from others. There may also be a fear of making a mistake at work or saying the wrong thing, and being assertive may be scary too because of fears of making others angry by speaking up.
Getting to the root of the anxiety:
I want to reiterate that the type of treatment I offer my anxious clients is not a behavioral approach that focuses on learning a technique or cognitive reframe for coping with anxiety each time it comes up. I would much rather focus on my efforts on helping you become less anxious in general so that you don’t need to live your life and make your choices from a place of fear. I would rather help you get to the root of what is making your anxious, especially if this is an unconscious conflict that is disguising itself and making it hard for you to address the REAL source of your anxiety, which may date back to a time you don’t even remember. The best way I know to help you with this is to encourage you to free associate (read more about “free association” here) and to help you make connections between your associations, thoughts, feelings, and memories by listening carefully to the words you say as well as to the patterns in your speech. This may feel weird at first because most of us are used to filtering what we say to others. This may also make you more anxious before you start to feel better. But again, I really believe in this approach as the way to lead to long-lasting changes that cut to the deepest core of your anxious self. And I’m willing to help facilitate that journey if you’re willing to put in the work by coming to your sessions and speaking freely even if this makes you feel anxious and awkward at first. I KNOW how much this can help because I have seen it so many times, so trust me on this one, it is worth it!
Focusing on unconscious feelings and fantasies is especially important because we often transfer anxieties stemming from unconscious forces onto everyday things that really can’t be controlled (and don’t need to be either!). Figuring out if issues like fear of anger, fear of dependency, or trying to avoid or suppress painful memories is at the heart of your anxiety can lead to relief once and for all. You may still struggle at times but you’ll be much more in control of your choices when you can recognize your fears for what they are and stop letting them dictate your life.
So, should I get help for my anxiety or not?
If you have anxiety, you may even wonder if getting therapy is the right choice, or you may question or try to analyze whether you actually have anxiety or need help for it. Deciding whether you should get help for your anxiety may feel like a difficult decision if decisions are hard for you in general. If you’d like to read more about my approach, check out this post.
So, what is the next step?
For the past 14 years, I have been providing treatment for anxiety in Clifton, NJ: helping people understand their anxieties better and get relief from them. I also help people get unstuck when important areas of their lives are being affected by anxiety, such as committing to relationships, making job changes, moving out from living with their parents, setting boundaries, getting over fears of driving, overcoming fears of separation or being alone, and forming new habits overall.
I look forward to hearing from you so we can decide whether we should work together to help you shed your fears and worries.