We have all experienced anxiety in some point of our lives, it is an emotion that arises in threatening situations and allows us to face the risk to which we are exposed to, or go away from it. Some people experience an excessive anxiety or irrational fear when exposed to certain situations: speeches, crowds, or heights; animals: spiders, dogs, or snakes; or objects that normally shouldn’t be perceived as dangerous. When this emotion is excessive, it interferes with the normal daily life and becomes a disorder. Recognizing symptoms is the first step in the problem solving process; people with anxiety disorders experience excessive worry, hyperventilation, palpitations, muscle tension, difficulty to sleep and concentrate, and a feeling of imminent danger that incapacitates them. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms you may have an anxiety disorder and you may benefit from counseling for anxiety.
Counseling for anxiety is an effective way to treat anxiety disorders, the therapy will depend on the specific disorder because it is not the same to have an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) than a social anxiety disorder (social phobia), or a generalized anxiety disorder. A professional counselor will identify the specific anxiety disorder and determine the approach depending on the diagnosis. Counseling for anxiety can help you in the healing process by giving you tools to manage the situations; teaching you how to identify the underlying causes; help you recognize the symptoms; teaching you to face the situation; and fight negative thoughts. Counseling consists of different therapies and relaxation techniques trough which you will overcome the anxiety disorder and recover your mental and physical well-being.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most used therapies; it is used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders. CBT starts from the premise that your thoughts (cognitive) determine your conduct (behavior) in certain situations which causes symptoms on your body. The objective is to fight negative and obsessive thoughts as well as distortions that led to the disorder. Therapy will help you to overcome the anxiety disorder; with time symptoms will diminish, and you will be able to avoid anxiety by using all the tools the counselor will give you.
During counseling for anxiety, your counselor will help you identify negative thoughts that trigger anxiety; once you have done it, you will learn to analyze them and question yourself about whether it is rational, proportional and useful for you to think and feel that way. At this point you can ask yourself: What are the chances this terrible situation can actually happen? Is it really so bad? Can it really hurt me? The answer may surprise you, there is no reason to be so afraid and the danger, if there is one, is not as big as you think it is. The next step is to learn to modify your thoughts to make them more rational and replace old ones, by doing it you will be able to face the situation or object from a different perspective and feel better about it. All this process takes time, it is necessary to practice these techniques not only when being with your counselor, but also at home and every time during the day you get to identify something is causing you excessive anxiety.
Face your Fears
To overcome anxiety disorders it is necessary to face your fears, otherwise you will not be able to break the cycle. It is called exposure therapy and consists in a series of steps that gradually expose you to the cause of anxiety. For example, when treating someone with arachnophobia (fear of spiders) the first step will be as simple as look at pictures of spiders, and the final step will be getting close to spiders and even touching them. It is important that a professional counselor guide you during this process, he will gradually confront you with the situation or object and will give you different tools to face the fear and reduce it. The key word here is “Gradually” so you should not be afraid, by the time you get to the final step you will know how to handle the situation, and at the end of the therapy it will not be as frightening as it was at the beginning.
Learn how to Relax
Whenever you start to feel anxiety you may practice some relaxation technique. For example, when having trouble with obsessive thoughts or lack of concentration practice mindfulness can help you fight these anxiety symptoms; make a pause, look around you and replace obsessive thoughts by noticing the colors in the walls, in the landscape or in the clothes people are wearing; count repeated objects or pay attentions to sounds; practice this technique for at least three minutes and you will be reconnected to the present moment. Yoga is another way to learn how to relax, it incorporates meditation, breathing control and physical exercise; even if you are not an expert you can benefit from practicing is, also it will be a good opportunity to meet new people when practicing with a group.
There are many relaxation techniques you can try during therapy, choose those that better adapt to you and incorporate them to your routine; at first it will not feel so natural but after a few days they will become a habit and with time you will practice them as a master.
Make new habits
Anxiety disorders can be reinforced by harmful habits. For example, tending to be socially isolated, working too many hours a day, not exercising, or depriving yourself of the little things you used to enjoy are habits that you must change. Making new habits is an important decision during the process. Exercise yourself at least 30 minutes a day will make you experience a pleasant feeling of well being, relief muscle tension, and counteract the effects of negative thoughts. Remember anxiety is the result of a cycle that goes from negative thoughts to behavior to debilitating symptoms; healthy habits can help you break the cycle, so make new social connections, listen to music, go out with old friends, prepare yourself a healthy meal and learn to say “No” to extra responsibilities at work.
Finally, remember knowledge is power; make sure you learn about anxiety disorders, its causes, symptoms, treatments, and consequences. Getting to understand what you are going through; the reason why you are experiencing these symptoms; and to have the certainty that they are not due to multiple diseases, will reduce anxiety and help you in the healing process. Also being informed will facilitate you to get a more realistic idea of counseling for anxiety, what it is about, the time and effort it will take, and the results you should expect. Anxiety disorders are emotionally and physically debilitating conditions, they have treatment so there is no reason to live with them.
By Julieth Diaz, M.D.
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