Anxiety is pervasive. Sometimes it is loud and distracting and demands to be heard. You might be traveling on a crowded subway, working to meet a looming deadline, or facing a job interview. Other times it catches you by surprise. You might find yourself feeling confident about an upcoming meeting. This might take a turn, however, when your PowerPoint won’t load or your taxi is running late.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of American notes that anxiety is the most common mental illness. It affects 40 million Americans every year.
Over the years, psychologists have made great headway in understanding anxiety and how it affects us. We now understand it has both mental and physical effects. Whereas stress and anxiety used to be synonymous, we know now they are distinct emotions. Stress is a common feeling that everyone will have at one point or another. Stress might feel like nerves or jitters. Anxiety can be much more severe - and have a multitude of physical effects.
The Mayo Clinic identifies the following as some of the symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense,
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom,
- Increased heart rate,
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation),
- Sweating or trembling,
- Feeling weak or tired,
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry,
- Trouble sleeping,
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems, etc.
As we can see, anxiety does not only affect the brain. It can elicit significant physical responses as well. The combination of psychological and physical responses can have an adverse impact on our day-to-day. Things such lack of sleep or trouble concentrating can have damaging effects on our well-being and productivity. Sometimes the symptoms of anxiety can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, our anxiety over a deadline might cause a lack of sleep. Exhaustion in turn only makes it more difficult to complete tasks for the deadline.
Particularly when anxiety becomes distracting or all-consuming, it might be time to reach out help. Therapy can be useful for understanding and managing the causes and symptoms of your anxiety.
If you are seeking counseling in New York City, contact us today to learn more about our services.
Reconnecting with ourselves…
Anxiety therapy is unique in its structure and methods. Other forms of therapy might place a greater focus on understanding past traumas or experiences. Anxiety therapy is about tools and learned behaviors. These can help us to manage and overcome our symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common anxiety therapies. It focuses on understanding how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected. We might think our anxiety response can’t be changed by our behavior, but this is actually untrue. Anxiety can make it difficult to manage our reactions to certain situations. CBT can help us to learn how to manage those responses more effectively.
So what does this mean? Anxiety therapy pushes us to examine our inner selves and what makes us tick. For instance, what kind of behaviors have we been engaging in that may actually be hurting us? Procrastination is often a symptom of anxiety, but there are tools we could use to start assignments earlier. For instance, making a schedule and breaking work up into smaller chunks. These actions can be more useful than saving things until the last minute. Understanding the negative behaviors we have grown accustomed to can help free ourselves from them.
Gaining new skills in therapy can also play a significant role in anxiety management. Learning to make a plan and block tasks out in advance may make it easier to get more sleep and feel rested the next day. As noted above, this can have a cyclical effect. Increased sleep can lead to a clearer head and increased productivity. This in turn may lead to sleeping better, because our anxiety about finishing the assignment on time has been reduced.
One of the most groundbreaking elements of anxiety therapy is that it is focused on skills we already have.
So how can we tap into our strengths to manage our anxiety? Therapy targeted at alleviating anxiety can be eye-opening. It's built off of existing skills. For example, you may already have a method of meditation or relaxation that helps you center yourself. This may be something like listening to music for an hour, going to the gym, or reading a book/magazine. These habits are valuable, and can be expanded upon or tailored to help ease anxiety. If you are nervous about an upcoming presentation, consider going to the gym the morning of. This can help you loosen up and relax. Understanding the connection between our behaviors and mental health can change our approach to anxiety management.
Anxiety therapy teaches us that our mental and physical health and habits/behaviors are tied together. Appreciating the link between these things empowers us to manage our behaviors differently. With practice, new and honed skills give us the power to be more deliberate in our actions. Being deliberate not only helps to reduce anxiety, but also helps us to connect with ourselves. Anxiety therapy opens up the window into our habits and existing skills. It highlights the behaviors we already engage in everyday that we should embrace and be proud of. We then learn how to maximize the benefit of those skills to reduce anxiety and in turn become more free.
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