Anxiety 101: What Is Anxiety And How Do You Treat It?
To treat anxiety, you have to understand what it is and how to treat it. A certain level of anxiety is completely normal. The difference between normal worry and anxiety is the severity of symptoms and the extent to which they impact someone’s ability to function. Learn what anxiety is and the steps you can take to help yourself.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a completely normal human emotion.
It’s our brain and body’s way of telling us something is wrong and that we must change what we are doing to keep ourselves safe.
If you never experienced any anxiety, you would wind up in trouble.
Imagine walking down the street in a bad neighborhood at midnight. You hear footsteps coming up behind you, but do nothing to stay safe.
When someone is suffering from an anxiety disorder, their brain is stuck in “worry mode” and interprets everything as threatening.
For example, someone with panic attacks interprets an elevated heart rate as a heart attack. A person with social phobia may feel nauseous just thinking about going to the store.
People experiencing severe anxiety often avoid situations that cause discomfort.
Over time, this means avoiding more and/or relying on others to make decisions for them and provide reassurance.
They may also start to experience anxiety about anxiety (i.e., worrying about having another panic attack).
As managing the anxiety becomes more difficult, people can begin feeling depressed and hopeless like their life is no longer their own.
What is Anxiety About Life Events?
Anxiety and distress can also be the result of life changes and events.
Losing a loved one, changing careers, moving, becoming a caregiver, or dealing with a chronic illness can be life changers.
These events are considered some of the most stressful events we can experience. They can leaving feeling lost and hopeless. We need to figure out our “new normal” and who we are given this new situation.
The sense of responsibility to figure things out can be overwhelming.
Many people feel like they just want things to stop or like they want to give up.
This impacts their ability to think, be productive, and feel a sense of control over their life.
When life as we know it stops making sense or isn’t as predictable as it used to be, anxiety increases.
CBT: The Most Effective Treatment for Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a research-based approach that is incredibly effective for treating anxiety.
CBT exercises and tools help you identify negative thinking patterns, challenge them, and replace them with healthier ones.
For example, let’s say you tend to make a lot of negative assumptions about what people think of you like “they think I’m a loser.”
One CBT strategy involves having you challenge that thought with actual evidence. Over time, you realize there isn’t a lot of actual evidence to support your assumption.
You can then make a choice to change how you respond to the “they think I’m a loser” thought.
When you consistently use CBT techniques, you will understand the thinking traps you are dealing with, look at challenges in new ways, adjust your responses, and develop better problem solving and coping skills.
As you think differently about yourself and your life, you will feel happier.
An added bonus is that you will be able to apply these skills across the different areas of your life. This will support your health and happiness for years to come.
Your Next Steps For Managing Anxiety
There’s a reason the saying “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t,” is so popular. Change is hard, even when you absolutely hate the situation you’re in now.
In order to manage anxiety, you have to be willing to try new ways of problem-solving.
You’re not getting a personality transplant. We don’t do those.
However, CBT involves changing how you look at yourself and the world and choosing a new and healthier way to respond. That means letting go of coping strategies you may have been using for years.
When you’re ready to take this leap of faith, you’ll want to work with an expert who knows how to use the latest research and methods to help you.
Please contact us to set up an appointment.
We can help give you information, a map for next steps, and hope that you can have the life you want.
Wishing you the best,
Dr. Ronit Levy is a clinical psychologist and director of Bucks County Anxiety Center in Newtown, PA. She specializes in treating teens and adults struggling with anxiety due to Anxiety Disorders, OCD, chronic illness, and life events. Dr. Levy trains and supervises other therapists and presents on mental health in the community.