Anxiety Disorder What is Anxiety? Anxiety is an emotional and behavioral response to a core fear that is experienced in thoughts, emotions, and/or bodily feelings. Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition in which the brain and body attempt to gain “control” over a discomfort or perceived threat for a prolonged period of time – sometimes decades of trying “manage” the emotional or physical response. Most anxiety disorders are propelled by a core fear or core worry.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Generalized anxiety is often a matter of worrying too much, or over-worrying; however, this is not the most obvious symptom for those who experience GAD. Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder often first present symptoms such as having trouble at work or with family and other relationships, as well as physical symptoms such as headache and stomach upset. Individuals who experience GAD often feel positive about their worry because it has become a tool of control or management that offers a feeling of preparedness, but this overcompensation for managing worry can harm relationships, or cause physical symptoms of headache, stomach upset, and sleeplessness.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder An obsession is an unwanted thought, mental image, or feeling that is connected to a core fear such as germs, safety, disorder/order, etc. A compulsion is an action, often repetitive or ritualized, that an individual takes to “neutralize” the obsession, such as washing their hands if they have a germ obsession, or checking locks if there is a safety obsession. Some compulsions only take place in thought patterns such as singing a song or saying a prayer to neutralize the obsession. For many who live with OCD, a common sentiment is "feeling utterly exhausted" from it.
Panic Disorder Panic symptoms often present as shortness of breath or tightness in the chest, a racing heartbeat, nausea, a feeling of impending doom or danger, trembling or shaking that triggers the “fight or flight” response, although there may be no present threat or danger. Panic is most often experienced as a physiological response with or without a clear sense of a core fear. The impulse response that an individual may experience is to fight the feelings of panic, which often worsen the symptoms, or to avoid triggers altogether.
Phobias Phobias are often specific in nature and accompanied by intense fear of a specific object, event, or experience. Individuals will take extreme measures to avoid the specific stimulus or to neutralize it. Phobias are rooted in fear such as a fear of insects or reptiles with result in avoiding the outdoors, fear of flying will result in avoiding air travel, a fear of enclosed spaces will result in avoiding certain spaces or isolating. However, the act of avoiding as the restrictive behavior for controlling this particular anxiety often leads to self-limiting options that prevent an individual from enjoying memorable experiences with others.
Social Anxiety Symptoms associated with social phobia/social anxiety are shyness, an overwhelming fear, avoidance of social situations, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, sweating, trembling. The behavioral response for individuals who experience social anxiety is marked by avoidance, over-analyzing, and expecting the worst possible outcomes in a social setting. The core fears often associated with social anxiety are fear of being judged, fearing of looking foolish, fear of not being accepted – in general, a fear of how others will judge or perceive the individual. The restrictive behaviors may include avoidance, overcompensation or preparedness, isolating, and selective mutism.
Anxiety Treatment When I work with clients who experience various anxiety disorders, there are a few modalities that I have found to be helpful for living with anxiety. I am trained in ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) where the goal is to move from the restrictive behaviors of controlling and managing anxiety to acceptance and psychological flexibility for experience anxiety in a healthier way. The restrictive behaviors are a short-term “fix” that only serve to feed anxiety over time, whereas Acceptance and Commitment therapy will help individuals to be present with distressing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without feeding the core fear. Additionally, I am trained in using Exposure Therapy with ACT for lowering the distress level found with anxiety disorders such as OCD, phobias, and social anxiety. And, sometimes, EMDR is a beneficial tool for imaginal exposures.