Forever Phobia: Will this anxiety ever go away?

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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Experiencing anxiety is not classified as a disorder. It is a normal and adaptive response which can help us stay focused and alert. Since our nervous system is primed to react to perceived threats, it can be extra sensitive when we are tired, stressed or hungry. It can misfire and cause physical symptoms that can feel uncomfortable or even threatening. 

But anxiety by itself is just anxiety. It’s just stress hormones coursing through our veins. Give it time and your body will return back to baseline. 

However, the moment you criticize yourself for having anxiety or view anxiety as something to fear, you allow it to have control over you. When you view your thoughts, emotions or physical sensations as weaknesses or threats, you perpetuate the cycle of worry and out-of-control feelings. This judgment can give way to persistent feelings of anxiety and dread that can significantly interfere with the quality of your life.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling jittery, nervous, scared, on edge, lightheaded
  • Catastrophizing; thinking about the worst case scenarios; what if thinking
  • Increased awareness of people around you and worrying they are judging you
  • Heightened reactions to sounds or bright lights
  • Feeling easily annoyed
  • Excessive worry about health, safety, job, relationships, money, the state of the world
  • Heightened awareness of somatic sensations such as muscle aches, irritable bowel, tension headaches, fatigue
  • Anxiety about the future; feelings of impending doom
  • Attentional difficulties; finding it hard to focus on tasks 
  • Sleep difficulties; sleeping too much or too little or restless sleep
  • Avoidance of places, people, or situations that trigger anxiety 
  • Intrusive thoughts

By normalizing your inner experiences and practicing mindfulness, you can foster a greater sense of well-being. This requires a redirection of your focus to the here-and-now to help you become less overwhelmed by your thoughts and emotions. By maintaining awareness moment by moment, and accepting the inner experience without reaction, you can prevent the negative thought spiral.

Examples of mindfulness associated with less rumination:

  • Non-reacting
  • Acting with awareness
  • Non-judging

Treatment for chronic anxiety:

A therapist who is skilled in CBT can teach you the proper techniques to overcome your anxiety and ultimately help improve the quality of your life. CBT techniques for chronic worry require practice, dedication and repetition. Once mastered, you can break the vicious cycle of worrying about your worry. You can improve your focus, be more present, feel physically healthier, and have an improved outlook on life.

The following are techniques that can be helpful in treating anxiety and chronic worry symptoms:

Exposure Therapy:

A skilled therapist will work with you to construct a hierarchy of both real life and imaginal exposures.  Through a multi-pronged CBT approach, you will learn a variety of coping mechanisms to help you face your fears and desensitize to the physical symptoms and emotional reactions that present themselves throughout each day.

Abdominal breathing:

When we are anxious, we tend to breathe rapidly and shallowly. By practicing abdominal breathing, your body and mind will be taught to release tension as you slow down your breath, breathe deeply through your abdomen and exhale tension from your body.

Relaxation and Mindfulness:

Anxiety can cause us to tense our muscles, which can affect our circulation and lead to stiffness and pain. Through progressive muscle relaxation, you will learn to calm your nervous system and relax your body one isolated muscle at a time. You will train your mind to break away from the negative thought patterns and stay in the present moment. 

Mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into treatment to help individuals observe their thoughts without becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness can enhance awareness of intrusive thoughts and help reduce emotional reactions to them.

Guided meditation:

Through guided imagery, a calm voice will guide you along a path toward relaxation. You will close your eyes and imagine yourself mastering the skills necessary to navigate through your daily challenges with a calm presence. You will see yourself no longer tensing up in the presence of your triggers. You will envision yourself handling each challenging situation in a relaxed way and feeling a sense of pride in your ability to do so.

Self-Help Strategies: 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep will help reduce anxiety and improve overall physical well-being.

Medication:

For some individuals, medication may be recommended. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications that have been found to be effective in treating anxiety. It is important to consult with a psychiatrist to determine the most appropriate medication and dosage for your specific situation.

Chronic worry as a symptom of a mental health disorder:

Excessive worry and rumination can be symptoms of a variety of different anxiety disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. 

It is important to seek treatment if your anxiety is severe enough that it significantly impairs your ability to function in your day to day life. If it leads to panic attacks, social avoidance, difficulties at work or in personal relationships, or hinders your ability to do routine tasks, it is recommended that you seek the help of a qualified mental health professional.

Advanced Behavioral Health, LLP provides CBT for anxiety using scientifically-proven techniques. Call 646- 345-3010 or email Dr. Suzanne Feinstein at drfeinstein@behaviortherapynyc.com for a free 15 minute consultation to see if you qualify for treatment.

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