Anxiety disorders involve a group of mental illnesses characterized by feelings of generalized uneasiness or discomfort. Many people seek anxiety therapy because they experience excessive worry or fear that interfere with their day-to-day life. This feeling of extreme or persistent apprehension, without knowing what causes the distress, is a distinctive feature of anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans (18 percent of the adult population) experiences anxiety each year. According to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report, the number of people seeking help for anxiety and depression has skyrocketed since the coronavirus outbreak.
The Adaptive Function of Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural stress response. In situations of crisis, anxiety occurs as an expected cognitive, emotional, and physical response. When you feel threatened, the amygdala in your brain produces hormones that activate the body’s “flight or fight” response, protecting you against pressures.
It is natural to experience mood changes occasionally or without an apparent reason. Whether it is due to family issues, work-related stress, health, or relationship problems, everyone experiences uneasiness from time to time. However, temporary feelings of apprehension are not an anxiety disorder. As long as these emotions don’t affect your everyday life and wellbeing, they are considered normal responses to stress.
But if you experience prolonged or exaggerated feelings of apprehension, sadness, or worry, you may be suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder.
To understand what triggers your symptoms and learn strategies to manage them, you may want to consider anxiety counseling.
Anxiety Symptoms and Risk Factors
Anxiety disorders typically manifest themselves through emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. Most people seek anxiety counseling when they start feeling that anxiety symptoms impact their ability to go about their daily lives.
The most common physical signs of anxiety may include:
- Nausea and dizziness
- Shortness of breath and increased heart rate
- Various aches and pains
- Skin prickling sensations
- Arms and legs numbness
- Sleep troubles
Moreover, you may recognize anxiety by the following emotional and cognitive signs:
- A generalized fear of approaching catastrophe
- Inability to relax
- Feeling agitated
- Emotional fatigue
- Fear of losing control
- Problems focusing and pay attention
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry and fear
Various factors can trigger anxiety disorders. The most common risk factors for anxiety involve genetics, environmental factors, other medical conditions, and specific brain changes.
However, your anxiety disorder may develop without any external reason. Namely, anxiety often stems from our self-critical thoughts and negative thinking patterns.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The term anxiety disorders covers various mental health concerns, such as:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
These disorders respond well to anxiety therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or their combination.
The Most Effective Therapy for Anxiety
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of anxiety therapy. It has proven very effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety, and panic disorder.
CBT is a problem-specific psychotherapy approach. This anxiety therapy can help you manage your anxiety symptoms by teaching you to identify and change dysfunctional thinking patterns and behaviors.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is founded on the idea that our perception of external objects or situations triggers anxiety. This anxiety therapy examines how your negative thoughts contribute to anxiety. For example, if you have panic attacks, CBT may teach you to interpret increased heart rate in terms of anxiety symptoms and not sign that you have a heart attack.
Furthermore, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help relieve emotional distress, improve emotional control, boost resilience, and develop effective coping strategies.
This type of anxiety counseling combines cognitive and behavioral methods. While cognitive CBT methods concentrate on changing automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), the behavioral aspect focuses on behavioral manifestations of anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety aims to help a client understand how automatic negative thoughts affect their feelings and behavior. After identifying negative thinking patterns, a person learns strategies to replace unproductive thoughts and behaviors with more positive ones.
Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)
ANTs are self-critical thoughts that spontaneously pop up in our minds, increasing uneasiness and discomfort. Cognitive CBT strategies point towards rewiring the brain to think differently, changing the neural pathways until the brain learns to replace harmful thoughts with positive ones automatically.
One of the central techniques CBT therapists use in therapy for anxiety involves cognitive restructuring. This method is founded on the principle of cognitive mediation, and it can help you identify and change ANTs and dysfunctional thinking patterns. According to cognitive mediation, one’s emotional state is not the result of the person’s experience but how they think about it.
That is, you can change how you feel by changing how you think about what happens to you.
Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care Strategies
Along with anxiety counseling, you can overcome anxiety by changing some life habits and practicing self-care daily.
The first step in coping with an anxiety disorder is learning about your condition. This involves learning to identify and understand the triggers for your anxiety symptoms, allowing you to set boundaries and change your negative thinking patterns.
Research has confirmed that regular exercise can ease feelings of fatigue and worry, increase your energy, and improve mood. Regular physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins and dopamine, the neurotransmitters also known as “hormones of happiness.” These neurotransmitters activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing a calming effect.
Mindfulness and Relaxation with Anxiety Therapy
Mindfulness meditation and various relaxation techniques can reduce the brain’s activity, promoting feelings of relaxation and composure. Namely, the amygdala is a cluster of neurons in the brain responsible for processing emotions and activating anxiety reactions.
By reducing the amygdala’s activity, mindfulness and relaxation indirectly reduce your stress and anxiety responses. Besides, mindfulness meditation and relaxation strategies can also improve focus, help you overcome negative thoughts, boost optimism, and improve your self-esteem.
Anxiety is a highly treatable mental health condition. The type of therapy for anxiety will depend on the nature and severity of your symptoms. In addition to anxiety treatments, there is a variety of self-care strategies available that can help manage anxiety and lead a happy and productive life.