What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction when people are in worrying situations or are faced with danger. You can think of anxiety as a tool our body uses to warn us of potential danger and alert our bodies to spring into action and defend ourselves. You have probably heard of the system in our bodies called the “fight or flight response” which produces physical changes so that we can defend ourselves. This is very useful and adaptive in situations we have to respond quickly, for example, moving out of the way of a train.
Some anxiety (a moderate amount) results in increased productivity, where you might experience a bit of a “charge”, you’re ready for action and your performance improves. For example, this might be felt before an important performance –helping us focus and perform well under pressure. The optimal amount of anxiety differs for each of us so we need to find it individually and not compare it with others.
The problem occurs when our bodies start the fight or flight response when the threat in the environment is not obvious or there is a very strong bodily response to a threat that most people would not think is severe. The good news is that you can learn to relate to your experience in a different way, so that these feelings do not influence your behaviour.
Do you experience any of these symptoms of anxiety?
Feeling anxious, wound up, fearful, scared, frightened.
Tense, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, trembling, shaky, sweating, irregular breathing, churning stomach, need to go to the toilet
What if? thoughts, worry thoughts, racing mind, thoughts that go around and around in your mind
Behaviour symptoms (what you do when faced with the feared situation)
Avoiding people or places that trigger your anxiety
What causes anxiety?
There is no one cause of anxiety. It is likely to be a combination of biology (your genes and personality), your psychological influences (what you’ve learned over the years, influencing how you think and behave), your stage of life and the social influence of others in your life. Psychologists call this the “biopsychosocial” theory.
Early life experiences are important as they give us an understanding of how to cope with difficult events and emotions. Coping strategies can be taught in adulthood as well, and this is where therapy comes in.
How many people are anxious?
Tension, stress and anxiety are common problems. About 20% of us in any given year will visit our GP with problems relating to anxiety. Commonly these might be felt as body symptoms – like chest pain, heart racing, hot and cold flushes, stomach aches.
Counselling for anxiety?
There are many types of counselling/therapy that have been shown to be useful for anxiety. At Change it psychology we tend to use skills based approaches including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and committment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness based approaches.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety?
Cognitive-behavioral treatment of anxiety is a goal oriented, structured, practical, and effective intervention for people suffering from anxiety. It involves identifying and addressing the behaviors and thinking patterns that cause and maintain anxiety. It is a present focused therapy and looks at how thoughts and behaviours contribute to feeling anxious and feeling confident . CBT can give you the tools to think in a different way about the siuation and feel better.
How effective are skills based approaches (for example CBT and ACT) for anxiety?
The good news is that numerous research studies have consistently demonstrated that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are effective therapies for anxiety.
What about medication?
Various medications have been found to be effective in the treatment of anxiety. It is best to speak to your GP about these and if necessary, your psychologist and GP can liaise over the best treatment.
What do I have to do?
Therapy for anxiety requires you to be an active participant in treatment. Your therapist may also give you exercises to practice at home to assist you in modifying your behavior, your thoughts, and your relationships.
There are many types of anxiety not all of which are listed here. Each of these anxiety problems have been shown to respond well to psychological therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and mindfulness approaches.
Types of anxiety?
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
This is characterized by a lot of worry about many different areas of life. If one worry is solved, people who suffer GAD will keep worrying about other areas. Other symptoms of GAD include restlessness or feeling on edge, difficulty concentrating and being easily distracted, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, difficulties falling or staying asleep, stomachache, diarrhea, headache. These symptoms must be on-going, persisting at least 6 months.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
This can be a disabling condition where sufferers find themselves having repeated unwanted thoughts (obsessions) which they try to ameliorate by performing some action (compulsions). Sufferers recognize that the thought is excessive and unreasonable but feel driven to perform compulsions which reduce distress and provide short term relief.
Common themes of OCD thoughts are about contamination (i.e., themselves or people they love will be contaminated), doubting (e.g., did they lock the door or turn off the oven), or aggressive or sexual impulses that would be socially unacceptable. Compulsions from the above thoughts might include handwashing, repeatedly checking the door or oven, hiding knives or avoiding people they think they might hurt.
People often feel trapped by OCD as the more the try and perform compulsions to stop the thoughts, the more the thoughts occur.
Social phobia/Social anxiety is a common problem where people fear being judged negatively which they think will then lead to being rejected or found socially unacceptable. Because social situations provoke such anxiety, they are often avoided, or endured with gritted teeth. Usually the fear involves being embarrassed (e.g., others noticing the blushing face or trembling hands) and that others will deem them anxious, crazy or weak because of this.
Health anxiety used to be known (and sometimes still is) as hypochondriasis. People with health anxiety believe that they have or are at risk of developing a serious illness. The preoccupation with this causes distress or interference in life in some way, however they can acknowledge the possibility that there may not be an illness or that they might be overstressing the negative elements of the situation.
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