What is Anxiety?
- Anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when you have a big test or have a meeting with your boss. Or when you have enough money to pay the bills in your account. But when anxiety goes beyond just a mortal fear or worries, when it starts to impact your life, your work, and your relationships. Or even your health that is when it becomes a serious concern.
- If you have anxiety, you feel it. The list of physical issues sounds like the end of a Calais ad.
- If you are taking anxiety, symptoms may include chest pain, muscle tension, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, heart palpitations, restlessness, dizziness, problems sleeping, hot flashes, chills, a whole bunch of other things, and. death. Haha, I am just kidding about that last one. Chronic anxiety can be bad for your long-term health, too. It is linked to things like heart attacks and a suppressed immune system. And that doesn’t even address what’s going on in your head! Anxiety Disorders often have cognitive distortions Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts or beliefs about ourselves or the world around us.
- It’s a fancy word for worries. Examples of this might include things like all-or-nothing thinking I don’t get done everything on a to-do list today; I am going to be a total failure! And catastrophizing.
- Oh no. I can’t believe I made that typo in that email. They must think I am, an idiot. These cognitive distortions can have serious impacts on behavior as well, affecting a person’s day-to-day life, how they interact with friends, or how they manage their job. Without treatment, anxiety symptoms tend to become more severe and frequent over time. But don’t fret! Help is out there.
- Contrary to popular belief, an anxiety disorder isn’t something you can just snap out of or ignore. It also isn’t a sign of personal weakness. Or someone who is unstable.
- Anxiety disorders can affect anyone. This stigma against anxiety disorders keeps people from seeking help. Only one-third of people suffering from anxiety get treatment and people who believe that anxiety is a choice is even less likely to get help when they need it.
How Do Anxiety Disorders Come About? And who is at Risk?
- So how do anxiety disorders come about? And who is at risk? Well, there is a popular way of thinking about anxiety called the Threshold Model. Imagine for a moment a graph with a normal distribution curve. The Y-axis is the number of people in your population. And the X-axis is the predisposition to anxiety.
- In the general American population, about 20 percent of people have a current anxiety disorder. That means that people whose anxiety level crosses the threshold in this upper 20 percent will likely experience an anxiety disorder. This threshold can also change based on how you change the population. For example, anxiety seems somewhat hereditary. So if the population is people who have parents with anxiety disorders, that threshold goes up to30 percent.
- Or if the population is individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, such as mass violence, that threshold goes up to 67 percent. As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can change the threshold. So, on an individual basis, depending on genetic predisposition, environment, and life experiences, the threshold will change. Okay, so let’s say you think you might have anxiety and you would like to get some help.
- Now what? The first step is setting up a meeting with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. You can discuss your thoughts and symptoms with them, and they will determine your diagnosis. Then they will help you understand it, and works with you on coping with your anxiety. There are a lot of methods to treat anxiety.
- Typically, the combination of medication and talk therapy is considered the most effective treatment. Alie talked about different medications, but today I am focusing on the therapy side of things. Honestly, there are a lot of different therapies that could be helpful for treating anxiety.
- But there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest with more than 30 years of compelling empirical data. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. CBT focuses on what and the how a person thinks or acts, more than why a person thinks or acts that way. To boil it all down, CBT has two goals. First, there is cognitive restructuring, which involves the therapist and client working together to change thinking patterns. For example, treatment may focus on changing cognitive distortions. If the person can recognize irrational thoughts and change them, they will be more able to reduce their anxiety in the future.
- The second goal is behavioral activation, which involves clients learning to overcome obstacles to participating in enjoyable activities. For example, exposure therapy involves sex posing a person to their fear without any actual danger. If a person is scared of snakes, for example, you might have a non-venomous snake in an enclosed tank across the room. The therapist then helps the client through what they are feeling. Eventually, when they become desensitized to the fear and feel more comfortable, the therapist moves the tank a little closer to the client’s anxiety returns. And then they repeat the process.
But how effective is this:
- Well, for specific phobias, like fear of sharks or string beans, individuals can see an 80 percent improvement in symptoms with as little as two to nine hours of cognitive behavioral treatment. In panic disorder, patients see about 60 to 93 percent improvement in symptoms, depending on the length of therapy.
- Patients with social anxiety disorder and most forms of PTSD also see significant, long-term improvement when using exposure and social skills training. Overall, CBT’s effectiveness is huge. At home on your own, there are a lot of coping skills that help reduce anxiety. Mostly lots of things that are good for self-care. These include building strong relationships, getting lots of sleep, exercising, eating well, doing fun activities, and meditation.
- If you would like to try reducing your anxiety at home, click in the upper right corner for the guided cognitive behavioral technique that relaxes your body and, as a result, your mind. Anxiety is no joke.
- If you think you or a friend or a family member is suffering from an anxiety disorder, take a look at the description for resources in your area. Help is out there, and you are not alone. So don’t wait. Thanks for watching this episode of Micah Psych! If you liked this episode, give me thumbs up. And hit share if you would like to catch more Articles about brain diseases and disorders in the future.
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