I wish I could just feel safe inside my own skin.
Have you ever said any of these things to yourself?
- There are so many things that could go wrong.
- I wonder what others are saying about me.
- I hope I don’t embarrass myself.
- I’m finding it hard to breathe.
- I just want to get this over with and go home.
- All of these people are making me feel uncomfortable.
- My chest is starting to feel tight.
- I have so many choices; I feel paralyzed.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues today. It affects all ages and almost everyone has suffered from it at one time or another. It can be just annoying enough for you to notice it’s there. It can become debilitating and keep you from getting through your day. And what to do about it can be confusing.
You have a lot of company. Most people are anxious.
A survey published in May 2019 stated the following:
Americans' Overall Level of Anxiety about Health, Safety and Finances Remain High
For the second year in a row, about two in three Americans say they are extremely or somewhat anxious about keeping themselves and their family safe, paying bills and their health, according to a new national poll released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Nearly one in three adults (32%) say they are more anxious than they were last year; more than four in ten (43%) say they are about as anxious as they were last year; and about a quarter (24%) say they are less anxious than last year. These are similar to changes in anxiety reported over the last two years.
Younger adults are more anxious than older adults (my emphasis added). About 70% of adults 18 to 34 years are somewhat or extremely anxious about paying bills or keeping their family safe; about 40% say they are extremely anxious about each of these aspects. Younger adults are also more anxious than older adults about their relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Nearly two in three adults age 18 to 34 are anxious about relationships compared to about 40% of those over 55.
Why are so many of us anxious?
The good news is there are many effective tools that, when practiced consistently, can reduce or even eliminate your anxiety.
Here are three common types of anxiety.
Generalized anxiety is described by excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of events or activities, such as work or school, that occur more days than not, for at least six months. People with generalized anxiety find it difficult to control their worry, which may cause difficulties with relationships, work or other areas of functioning.
Social anxiety is identified by persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to strangers or open to possible judgement by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.
Panic Disorder is a serious experience of anxiety characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear along with physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes can occur without warning, not connected to a known fear or stressor. It’s common for the person to believe that the episode is life threatening.
There are other types of anxiety such as specific phobias, like agoraphobia.
You weren’t born anxious. You learned it.
We can say that no one is born with anxiety. You may remember experiences from very early in life, but there is no gene that codes for anxiety or a fixed set of genes that cause anxiety to occur.
At best, we can say that some people have a tendency toward anxiety symptoms in general. Why you develop anxiety has more to do with your experiences than it has to do with genetics.
Because we develop anxiety over time (although some people feel it hits them all at once), the brain is learning how to be anxious.
The brain learns how to worry and what to be afraid of. Say you're worried about a certain event and this event triggers your anxiety. Your relevant brain wiring forms a network that comes online when you think about that event and your anxiety recurs. The more often this happens, the more reinforced the network becomes.
Fortunately, you can teach your brain to react differently to this event and form a new, healthy brain network.
Here’s what we can do about it.
Just about everyone can learn to overcome anxiety. What’s necessary is a learning process that must be repeated over and over again so that our brain wiring can gradually change.
In my sessions we take a detailed history of anxiety in your life, going back as far as you can remember. We will explore, investigate, and process every event in your life that may be connected to your anxiety today. We will discuss experiences and people that caused anxiety for you, and probe for understanding and connection.
If all goes well, we’ll arrive at a story of anxiety in your life. When it happened and who or what caused it. What it felt like then and what it feels like now. What are the anxiety experiences of your past and how do they affect you today.
Then we’ll decide the best treatment for you and proceed, measuring results along the way.
Here are some specific tools we can use individually or in combination with each other:
- Exposure therapy – a type of behavioral therapy that gradually makes you comfortable with the source of the anxiety.
- Mindfulness based awareness – focused attention on the present moment without judgment and with acceptance.
- Grounding – assuming a comfortable physical position, then repeating out loud what each of your senses are telling you. This is a distracting and calming technique.
- Controlled breathing – placing all of your attention on the process of breathing in and breathing out, which brings about a relaxation response.
- Positive self talk – recalling positive experiences and reminding yourself of your good qualities.
- Reality check – asking yourself what is real and what isn’t; what does the evidence tell you?
- Self-compassion – using self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness for self-care.
- Experiential therapy – talk therapy that explores the sources of anxiety; it may reveal unresolved trauma.
Medication can help temporarily. But medications do not change the wiring in your brain. There is no cure for anxiety in medication. There is a temporary, chemical change in your brain brought about by the medication. It lasts only as long as the medication is designed to last. It’s not permanent. You always need to take another pill to get the same effect.
The thought of coming to counseling makes me anxious.
The idea of talking about your anxiety in counseling can make you…well, anxious. While this may sound counter intuitive, it’s part of the process and will eventually help you get through it.
It’s too expensive.
Try to imagine what your life would be like with little to no anxiety. How much better would that be for you? What is that worth to you?
It’s embarrassing to admit my fears.
We all have fears. No one is immune to them. To be afraid of certain things is to be human. You may be surprised at how much better you feel after saying them out loud and releasing your feelings behind them.
Your life can get better.
You don’t have to suffer with anxiety. With the right treatment it can get better. In a safe, supportive counseling space, together we can gently come to understand what’s happening and figure out a solution.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or just need help.