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Overcoming Anxiety with Therapy

Anxiety is, without question, one of the most common mental-health concerns I address in my practice. Literally millions of Canadians deal with anxiety disorders, and the condition affects people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. Although this sounds alarming, the news is not all bad. With professional help, anxiety disorders are also among the most treatable mental health issues. In this blog, I’ll explain a little more about how psychotherapy is used to treat anxiety disorders.

When is Anxiety a Disorder?

In the simplest terms, an anxiety disorder means having excessive and persistent feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and even fear. The terms “excessive” and “persistent” are crucial. It is, of course, perfectly normal to feel nervous, anxious, and afraid from time to time. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, worry and fear about everyday situations. Click here to see a full list of symptoms and effects of anxiety. But the bottom line is this: If feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with your daily activities, are difficult to control and are out of proportion to the actual risk, you would likely benefit from professional help.

Treating Anxiety with Therapy

A therapist’s office is a neutral place, where you can talk—without judgment—to a person who has significant expertise in treating your condition. And this kind of guidance helps you work through mental-health challenges in a way that talking to friends, a spouse and other people doesn’t. With anxiety disorders, the goal of therapy is helping you understand why you’re having feelings of anxiety, what triggers them, and find ways to help you change your reaction to them. To do that, the therapist first needs to get a broad view of your life. When I talk to clients, I need to learn exactly where the anxiety is interfering in their lives and, just as importantly, where it’s not.

For example, some people might have a particular task or situation that triggers their anxiety, while they’re able to breeze through the rest of their day. So obviously, we’ll focus on that trouble area. On the other hand, sometimes anxiety is pervasive and impacts a client’s life throughout the day. In that case, I’ll need a full understanding of their day-to-day routine, to assess the specific ways in which anxiety is interfering it, so we can begin to address the challenges.

In some situations, when a person’s anxiety level is very high, they may also need to see a physician or psychiatrist for an assessment. One of the small ironies of anxiety treatment is that sometimes talking about the thing that makes you anxious, makes you even more anxious. And this can increase your anxiety to the point that we struggle to even talk about it. In these cases, some form of anti-anxiety medication can be quite helpful. The medication can reduce your anxiety enough that you’re able to engage in talk therapy, in order to get at the deeper roots of your issue. In fact, there’s a great deal of research suggesting that the combination of medication and therapy is a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

Therapeutic Treatments for Anxiety

As I mentioned, anxiety disorders have been the focus of significant study. The results have shown that anxiety is very treatable using a variety of established therapies. One of the most widely used is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has shown to be effective, typically in about 12 sessions. I also use narrative therapy and externalization, which are less well known but are very powerful tools for combating anxiety. Mindfulness techniques can also help build a tolerance to the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that cause anxiety. With all these therapies, an important part of the treatment is simply being exposed to your anxious thoughts instead of hiding from them or distracting yourself. Talk therapy itself is a form of exposure, which helps you understand your anxiety, reduce your symptoms, and regain control of your life.

Don’t Let Anxiety Take Over Your Life – Talk Therapy can Help

And finally, although I’ve said it several times, I have to emphasize again that most people who seek help for an anxiety disorder are able to get better. The success rates among those who receive treatment are usually very high, allowing people to return to productive, fulfilling lives.

Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about this or other mental health issues.

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