Hello! Dr. Samantha Brustad here, licensed psychologist and owner of teletherapy-solutions.com. Whether you’re suffering from panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, relentless worries or phobia, or overwhelming stress, it’s important to know that you don’t have to live with anxiety and fear. Anxiety therapy can help, and for many anxiety problems, therapy is often the most effective option. Anxiety therapy can help you uncover the underlying causes of your worries and fears; teach you how to relax; change your perspective on troubling topics; and help you feel empowered and confident.
The approach and length of therapy differs greatly person-to-person, as treatment should be tailored to your specific symptoms and diagnosis. That being said, anxiety therapy has been found to be extremely efficient and effective. Although any course of treatment is typically a minimum of 8-12 sessions, you can begin to feel relief immediately after connecting with a trusted mental health professional.
While many different types of therapy are used to treat anxiety, the leading approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and mindfulness. Many therapists combine these treatments with other therapeutic approaches to lower anxiety levels, overcome fears and uncover their root cause.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. Research has shown it to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
CBT operates under the belief that thoughts, behaviors and emotions are closely connected. For example, a person who believes (thought) spiders are highly dangerous and aggressive may also hypervigilently check their sheets and pillows at night before bed.
The basic premise of CBT is that our thoughts—not external events—affect the way we feel. In other words, it’s not the situation you’re in that determines how you feel, but your perception of the situation. For example, imagine that you’ve just been invited to a big party. Consider three different ways of thinking about the invitation, and how those thoughts would affect your emotions.
Exposure Therapy for Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t a pleasant sensation, so it’s only natural to avoid it if you can. One of the ways that people do this is by steering clear of the situations that make them anxious. If you have a fear of heights, you might drive three hours out of your way to avoid crossing a tall bridge. Or if the prospect of public speaking leaves your stomach in knots, you might skip your best friend’s wedding in order to avoid giving a toast. Aside from the inconvenience factor, the problem with avoiding your fears is that you never have the chance to overcome them. In fact, avoiding your fears often makes them stronger.
Exposure therapy, as the name suggests, exposes you to the situations or objects you fear. The idea is that through repeated exposures, you’ll feel an increasing sense of control over the situation and your anxiety will diminish. The exposure is done in one of two ways: Your therapist may ask you to imagine the scary situation, or you may confront it in real life. Exposure therapy may be used alone, or it may be conducted as part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Rather than facing your biggest fear right away, which can be traumatizing, exposure therapy usually starts with a situation that’s only mildly threatening and works up from there. This step-by-step approach is called systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization allows you to gradually challenge your fears, build confidence, and master skills for controlling panic.
A mindful person is reflective rather than reactive. By focusing our attention on the present moment, mindfulness counteracts anxiety. Worrying about the future and ruminating about the past are generally maladaptive thinking processes. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and plan ahead for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside of the present moment, we can get depressed and anxious. Mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present moment. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to benefit the following areas:
Body awareness: Body awareness is the ability to notice subtle sensations in the body and self-report findings indicate that mindfulness leads to greater perceptions of body awareness. Being aware of your internal emotional state is necessary to being able to better regulate those emotions.
Focused attention: Mindfulness practice improves one’s ability to focus attention. Through better control of attention, it can be easier to focus on a present task, rather than being distracted by worry.
Self-perception: Mindfulness also changes one’s perspective of oneself. Buddhist psychology teaches that the self is not permanent and static, but rather made up of ongoing mental events. Two months of mindfulness meditation practices have been shown to increase self-esteem and self-acceptance.
Physical health: Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to produce other health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels (a stress hormone).
Living with anxiety can feel overwhelming at times. You are not alone. We are here to help.
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