Anxiety & Stress Management
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
To some extent, anxiety is a normal part of life. The way our nervous systems evolved simply includes some states that are uncomfortable in this particular way we call anxiety. Feeling a bit edgy before an exam, a first date, or a big meeting is the body’s natural response to the knowledge that something significant is about to happen. While not comfortable, this experience tends not to disrupt the natural flow of our life.
But in any given year, about 18% of U.S. adults and 25% of adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder, meaning a form of anxiety that doesn’t seem to diminish when the situation changes, and/or that noticeably reduces our quality of life. This type of anxiety is essentially a state in which the body’s natural alert systems get stuck in the “on” position. This is a problem both because it’s profoundly unpleasant and because over time this high-alert state can drain the body’s natural resilience to stress. It is not uncommon for an anxiety disorder to co-occur with depression.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY?
As with most psychological challenges, the causes of anxiety disorders are complex. Some types of anxiety disorder (PTSD, for example) are heavily influenced by life events and environmental factors. Others are heavily correlated with genetic influences. Notably, caffeine use has been shown to exacerbate some of these syndromes, so if you’re struggling with anxiety, you might want to back down on the coffee intake.
IS MY ANXIETY “NORMAL?”
As with many psychological problems, the dividing line between “normal” psychological challenges and those requiring outside support can be defined in terms of the effects of your symptoms on your life:
If you find that your experiences of anxiety interfere with your daily life, it might be worth it to seek some support. For a brief list of signs and symptoms of the three most common anxiety disorders, check out the NIMH website.
OK, IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS?
Yes. As in the case of depression, the unfortunate prevalence of anxiety disorders in modern society has produced a sizable cohort of survivors. If you are struggling with these symptoms, you are not alone, and there is ample evidence that relief is possible.
HOW CAN PSYCHOTHERAPY HELP?
No two people are identical, and therefore no two effective treatments will be identical. A good psychotherapist will work with you to understand your challenges and design an approach that is both accessible and effective.
My approach is multifaceted. Many clients find it useful to have some understanding of the mechanisms behind their anxiety, and I can provide relevant, concise, and empowering perspective on the “why” of anxiety.
Cognitive therapy has been shown to be an effective intervention for many, and I draw heavily from that work. This approach to therapy involves a systematic exploration of the mental content that produces anxiety, with an eye towards neutralizing the unhelpful stuff and incorporating the remainder more functionally.
Mindfulness training can be useful in many cases as an adjunct to cognitive therapy. In this context it can be thought of as an advanced training in noticing the details and patterns in our mental and physical experience, which produces more opportunities for altering our thoughts and behaviors towards health and ease.
Relaxation techniques may also be appropriate in some cases. Relaxation is a skill most of us learn automatically, not even realizing that it is in fact a skill. By approaching it as such, we can actually learn to become master relaxers, cultivating an ability to soften, let go, and restore ourselves effectively and efficiently.