Anxiety Counseling

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an umbrella term covering several mental health disorders including Panic disorder, Phobia related disorders, Social phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Separation Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and many more. Often the generic term is referring to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a chronic mental health disorder that involves excessive and intense worry and fear. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 20% of American adults experience an anxiety disorder every year. The anxious mind can be filled with catastrophic outcomes, morbid prophecies, and an overriding sense of helplessness in the face of challenges. We don’t see ourselves combatting and overcoming difficulties consistently when we have anxiety. Instead, we sit on the sidelines and watch the unfolding of events and the decisions of others shape our lives.

It’s normal to worry about everyday matters in our lives, but many of us regularly experience intense concerns about the past (“What I should have done”) or the future (“I’m worried about impressing my new boss”). Those of us with anxiety are imprisoned in a repetitive loop of alarm, racing or uncontrolled thoughts, and chronic apprehension. Our sense of safety and predictability rests solely on our ability to have completely certain answers about a future that has yet to unfold.

A distinguishing characteristic of generalized anxiety is the intolerance of uncertainty. We are unable to tolerate not knowing how events will unfold. We cannot differentiate between the productive and unproductive worry. In the absence of data, our anxious mind predicts negative results. We want to know the outcome now and we want to know for sure. We ruminate constantly on the outcome even when we have no way to influence those events. So much energy is invested in worry and fretting that we are unable to turn our focus to the problems that we can solve. Instead we continue to go sideways in our lives due to our profound concern with controlling and predicting the future.

Anxiety is impactful on many levels, but it usually registers in our bodies first. We may become aware of an aches (e.g., headaches, backaches, or overall body aches), a rapid heart beat, sweating, feeling energized and then exhausted, rapid breathing, hyperventilation, shaking or trembling, and more. Next, our minds can become flooded with adrenaline and a sudden need to either run or to stand and fight our adversary. We are constantly engaged and on red alert as we defend ourselves and look for the next threat. Our minds are solely focused on the challenge we are facing and all of our physical and mental resources are channeled to the goal of self-defense. Finally, our behavior can become disconnected from what is happening. If we are feeling overwhelmed, we may feel numb and lost in the moment. We can become literally immobilized and rooted to the floor underneath us. We are unable to activate and influence our environment. Think of it like your brain has short circuited and shut down instead of dealing with the crisis. We remain frozen in our fear when we need to influence what happens next.

How Anxiety Affects Our Lives

Anxiety is the most common mental health complaint in America. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 34% of Americans develop anxiety at some point during their lifetime. Many of us can live with it for decades while living our lives fairly successfully. While troublesome, the anxiety tends to come and go depending on events. We tend to minimize its effects on our lives. We attribute the nervousness, insomnia, and worry to temporary situations will resolve soon.

However, anxiety rarely goes away on its own. In fact, once the brain has become used to being anxious, it begins to generate anxiety even without a specific trigger. We can become saturated with significant anxiety without any real reason or provocation. Anxiety without a discernable trigger can make us feel even more anxious which reinforces a feeling of helplessness and continues the downward spiral.

Most of all, anxiety exacts a significant opportunity cost. While we are struggling to outrun or ignore the multiple symptoms of anxiety, we are missing out on our best lives. Instead we are managing around the anxiety rather than learning the essential coping skills to face it directly and overcome it. We tend to narrow our world to accommodate the constant anxious chatter in our minds. Our narrowed worlds rarely restore our sensible perspective of life and we just suffer in silence. We justify our anxious conclusions that the world is a dangerous place filled with challenges that we cannot handle. The belief system reinforces itself since we will never gather any evidence to the contrary if we remain hidden.

How We Treat Anxiety

The first step in treating anxiety is to assess the current state of coping skills and how emotions are being approached and processed. We often find a pattern of extreme emotional distress and feelings of being overwhelmed or overloaded. Attention, concentration, and problem solving are often disrupted as well. Often, effective self-soothing and coping skills are minimal or lacking, and we may often resort to avoidance patterns in an effort to manage the anxiety.

Once we have identified your specific pattern with anxiety, we will recommend a course of treatment that may include therapy programs such as DBT, MBCT, or CBT. Individual therapy with a highly skilled, licensed professional counselor will almost certainly be recommended. In addition, we may recommend a medication consult to assist with the anxiety and dealing with symptoms.

Like many other severe mental health issues like depression, anxiety can begin for a few different reasons. We may have a biological predisposition to feeling anxious and thinking negatively due to our genetics and brain chemistry. Anxiety can also be the result of a sudden trauma or setback. We may magically think that if we had just paid better attention or made a better prediction, we may have avoided a terrible outcome. However, anxiety can also begin due to changes later in life such as side effects of certain medications or even physical changes like thyroid problems or ingesting too much caffeine. Whatever the cause, anxiety is highly treatable with multiple effective therapy approaches to resolve negative thinking and calm the anxious mind.