How can a psychologist help me with my anxiety?
Hands up if you have never experienced some level of anxiety? The uncomfortable physical sensations that seem to come from nowhere? The racing heart …sweating …dizziness ….tingling hands or feet …dry mouth …
This is your body’s normal response to a possible threat as it starts preparing you for a fight or flight response. If you are going to run away, it makes sense for the heart to be pumping blood around the body to the parts vital in escaping. Thus, the goal of anxiety is to stay safe and to avoid danger. In the days of the caveman, you needed to feel fear when faced with a sabre-toothed tiger or you would be killed. You also needed to think ahead about other possible situations where you may need to avoid the sabre-toothed tiger in the future.
Anxiety and fear are normal human reactions to frightening or potentially dangerous situations, and is adaptive. However, adaptive becomes maladaptive when your fears result in behaviour change designed to escape or avoid situations where you may experience feeling anxious, and starts have a restrictive impact on your everyday life.
Problems with anxiety occur when you:
- Are unwilling to experience symptoms of normal anxiety, such as:
- a pounding (or racing) heart, shortness of breath or hyperventilation, tingling in hands and/or feet, “butterflies” in your stomach
- Or private experiences and future oriented outcome worries, such as:
- fear of making a social error or making a fool of yourself
- fear of public humiliation
- fear of having a panic attack
- Recurrent “irrational” or intrusive thoughts
- thinking that you might harm your spouse, child or self
- worrying that you have, or might, have harmed someone
- thoughts that you may have said or done something inappropriate
- Thought – action fusion. The perspective that internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, images) are causal and dangerous, therefore strengthens unwillingness to experience them.
- “if I imagine my son being hit by a car it will happen”
- “I want to stab my children” is morally equivalent to actually carrying out the prohibitive action
Not many people really want to experience uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and it is natural to want to get rid of them as quickly as you can. People with anxiety become very creative and use escape or avoidance behaviours such as:
- cognitive change efforts
- alcohol or substance use
- checking (common with obsessive compulsive disorder)
- situational avoidance
And all these strategies are very effective in the short term, but the problem is, that by avoiding these uncomfortable feelings you never get to actually have the experience that the potential threat may not be dangerous after all. It is not the content of a thought or feeling that is problematic, but rather the “unwillingness” to experience it.
Six Most Commons Types of Anxiety
There are different types of anxiety, and an experienced psychologist will be able to tailor a treatment that is specific to what you are experiencing.
Generalised Anxiety (GAD) : uncontrollable and often excessive worry, about a wide range events or activities in the future, that interferes significantly with functioning on a daily basis.
Social Phobia /Social Anxiety : a fear of embarrassing yourself in public and/or being judged negatively by others in social situations, and feeling rejected or humiliated as a result.
Specific Phobia : an irrational fear when exposed to a specific object. Phobia’s are separated into five categories – animal type (spiders, dogs etc), environmental (heights), situational (dark, confined spaces), blood/injection/injury, and other (clowns etc.).
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A disorder where a person needs to check things repeatedly or has particular thoughts repeatedly (obsessions), and a need to perform particular tasks or activities repeatedly (compulsions) in order to feel safe. Individuals with OCD feel that they have no control over this. Some common OCD behaviours are hand-washing, counting things, placing objects in a specific order. Hoarding is another example of OCD behaviour. There are others also who experience just the obsessions (such as intrusive thoughts) without the compulsive component.
Panic Disorder : recurring panic attacks co-occurring with extreme levels of anxiety. Because panic attacks seem unpredictable, an individual may also experience anxiety about future panic attacks and avoid situations where they may occur. For example, someone who had one panic attack in a shopping mall may avoid going to that shopping mall again.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) : this is anxiety associated with one or more traumatic events (such as being sexually assaulted, being in or witnessing a car accident, witnessing multiple traumas (such as road traffic accidents) where they have felt their (or others) life to be in danger, and also where they have felt helpless or unable to control the situation. As a result, an individual may often experience flashbacks (reliving the experience), nightmares, avoidance or numbing of feelings related to the experience, and hyperarousal of the body or hypervigilance. With PTSD, these symptoms continue to occur for more than one month after the trauma.
Common psychological treatments for anxiety include:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Behaviour Therapy (BT)
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR – for PTSD mostly, and also useful for other types of anxiety)
If you are seeking the services of a psychologist or counsellor in Perth, please contact me on 0406 033 644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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