Anxiety is a reaction to perceived stress with both psychological and physical effects. These feelings are thought to originate in the amygdala, the part of the brain that governs many powerful emotional responses.
The following are the most common physical responses to anxiety:
The treatment for anxiety disorders is determined by the severity of your symptoms and their impact on your day to day life. The primary treatments are psychotherapy and medication, with many individuals finding success through a combination of the two. Be aware it may take some time and trial and error to find the course of treatment that is most effective for you.
Psychotherapy or counselling involves working with a professional clinical therapist to manage and reduce your anxiety symptoms. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is one of the most common and most effective forms of psychotherapy.
When you meet with your therapist, they will work with you to identify your triggers and help you develop a skillset to manage your anxiety. Together, you will set goals and work step-by-step to accomplish them. Clients who are committed and willing to do the work required often see powerful results and a measurable reduction of their symptoms.
Medication may also be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. Do not be ashamed or upset if your therapist suggests speaking to your doctor about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). If you have diabetes, your doctor would recommend insulin to correct the imbalance and mental health is no different. Be sure to talk to your doctor about potential benefits, risks, and the possible side effects of any medication and speak to your therapist about your experiences. Be aware that some medications take time to metabolize in your system, so the effects may not be immediate.
Although you may live with an anxiety disorder, it doesn’t have to define or control you. Along with counselling from a trained clinical therapist, medication prescribed by your doctor, or a combination of the two, these self-care tips can help manage feelings of anxiety.
The first question often asked by individuals struggling with anxiety is, “Can I be cured?” However, being completely free of anxiety is not the answer. Anxiety and fear are essential tools for signaling real danger and keep us safe. They are your body’s natural “fight or flight” response to a threat.
So, rather than eradicating your anxiety completely, your therapist will work with you to create a treatment plan encompassing all your symptoms and provide you with practical tools to manage and control your anxiety.
One of the most trusted and effective treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT. CBT focuses on identifying, understanding, and transforming an individual’s thinking and behaviour. The client is actively involved in their recovery, and as a result, gains a sense of control as they utilize the skills and tools provided by the therapist. CBT often includes outside reading and homework assignments that implement the tools acquired in therapy sessions. Successful treatment is heavily dependent on the willingness of the client to use the tools being taught.
Exposure therapy is another type of CBT used primarily for reducing fear and anxiety responses. Through exposure therapy, the client is gradually exposed to a situation or object that spikes their fear or anxiety. Over time, this continual exposure decreases their sensitivity. It is particularly effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.
Commonly referred to as ACT, this type of therapy uses acceptance and mindfulness (a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations), as well as commitment and changes in behaviour as a way to cope with unwanted thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Through ACT, the client develops the skills to accept these experiences, re-framing them in a different context, thus developing clarity about their values and recognizing the commitment needed to change behaviour.
Incorporating cognitive-behavioural techniques with meditation, dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) integrates acceptance and change. DBT combines individual and group therapy to teach mindfulness and skills for interpersonal relationships, managing distress, and controlling your emotions.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, seems to have a direct effect on how the brain processes information. In essence, it helps a person see disturbing material in a less distressing way. Research has determined that under certain conditions, eye movement appears to reduce the intensity of upsetting or alarming thoughts.
Scientists believe EMDR is similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep. Research has established that EMDR is particularly effective for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and clinicians have reported success using it as a tool in treating panic attacks and phobias.
One of the features of CBT is that it is focused on eliminating symptoms quickly and effectively, typically in a few weeks to a few months. Clients may see results in 8-12 sessions, which is quick by therapy standards. These results are possible by applying the techniques and skills learned throughout the week, not only during the therapy session itself.
Please note, individuals rarely present with a single, isolated issue to work through, so there is no magic number of sessions. Each case is handled on an individual basis and treatment is customized based on the severity and number of issues to be addressed.
An important first step in overcoming a mental health issue is to learn more about it, otherwise known as “psychoeducation.” By learning about your problem, you will see that you are not the only one struggling and that there is hope and help available through cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT.
Through CBT, your therapist will give you the tools to overcome your anxiety and take back control of your life.
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