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How can Therapy Help with Anxiety?

August 8, 2022

Anxiety is a naturally occurring emotion that we all experience. It alerts us to the environment and our surroundings so that we can act accordingly (fight, flight, freeze, or fold). Ideally, it would come and go once we have processed and addressed the threat; however, for many, it is not that simple. For some, we get stuck in an anxious loop that never ceases, or in some cases builds and builds. For these individuals, it is important to know that they do not have to live trapped in this loop, and seeking therapy can aid in breaking the cycle.

Experiences of anxiety are vast in numbers and can vary based on the root cause, triggers, or focus of the worry, symptoms, severity, duration, and physical manifestations. For that reason, treatment in therapy should be individualized on a case-by-case basis. Some would benefit from more extreme intervention, while others simply need a supportive space to process. Some will need the support of medication, while others will just need coping techniques. Thus, finding a therapist who is willing to explore and collaborate alongside you is extremely beneficial. The therapeutic alliance is the number one factor related to successful treatment outcomes across treatment modalities, so allow yourself the time to find a therapist you feel connected to. Additionally, it would serve you well to remain flexible in trying things that may be outside your comfort zone.

What Does Treatment Look Like Overall?

With the vast array of anxiety-related diagnoses, it is important to note that specific interventions will vary based on the individual needs. For example, interventions that are used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder will be different from those with anxiety or panic attacks. But overall, therapy will approach your anxiety in a few different ways.

Unlike medication, which often treats the symptoms, therapy will dig deep into the roots and cause of your worry and anxiety. Looking for learned patterns or common themes that could bring self-awareness and aid in reframing certain situations. This could help you look at certain situations with a less fearful perspective or redistribute your attention to more important or realistic things. This could go deep into your childhood or be connected to a major event in your life, depending on your own experience.

Anxiety often dominates the mind through our thoughts. This can present as rumination, intrusive thoughts, and negative cognition, and can even distort our perception of reality. When anxiety or worry controls our mind it can feed us lies under the guise of truth. Differentiating the lies from reality is a battle that comes much easier after we become more aware of ourselves and with support from a therapist. Changing our thought patterns can arguably be the hardest battle but holds the greatest rewards and can offer internal peace and relief; for our thoughts have a direct line to the emotions we feel.

Anxiety is deeply rooted in our sympathetic nervous system and can be extremely taxing when constantly activated. Gaining an understanding of the early warning signs of our body can give us back control, by intervening before the anxiety gets out of hand. It also opens the door to techniques that subside the sympathetic nervous system and can combat anxiety on a physical level (breathing techniques, laughter, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery).

Getting to know the idiosyncrasies of your personal experience with anxiety will allow for the discovery of ways to intervene and cope. For some, implementing breathing techniques once they begin to feel those butterflies in their stomach will suffice. For others, pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone and exposing themselves to their triggers while practicing cognitive restructuring will provide the most growth and relief. Perhaps channeling the anxiety into more creative and expressive avenues will act as an outlet to let go of the internal tension. Therapy provides a space that is individualized to your needs and allows for the exploration of what will work specifically for you. This entire process varies in length and time depending on your needs, but usually, improvement is seen around the 8-10 session mark.

Anxiety can be crippling, exhausting, and overwhelming, but you are not alone in what you are experiencing. Anxiety overall is being experienced at higher levels and for longer durations now more than over. With the global pandemic, political tension, and acts of violence in various settings, we are all feeling the impact and effects of anxiety, worry, and fear. But there is help out there and no one has to suffer alone. Reach out for help and a mental health professional will be there to support you on every level.

CHE Behavioral Health Services offers FREE Mood Screenings with a licensed therapist and no obligations. Easy online scheduling and therapy is provided under most major insurances or with a self-pay care plan option.

Annika Lundin
Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University, Los Angeles

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