According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness affecting almost 40 million Americans. There are many types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Learn more about each here.
Anxiety is highly treatable yet only one third of individuals seek treatment. The mere act of asking for help can be very anxiety-provoking so these individuals tend to suffer alone. Avoidance of situations that intensify anxiety is a common symptom of panic disorder, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress, so not seeking treatment feels like the best solution to the situation.
But feelings are an unreliable source of information.
A HELPFUL METAPHOR
It helps to have a better understanding of what anxiety actually is. You may be very familiar with the physical symptoms, rapid breathing, throat closing up, sweaty palms, trembling voice, and in some occasions feeling like you are going to faint or die. These experiences are uncomfortable and you don’t want to experience them but if you worry about having these symptoms you will make things worse. We often have a judgment or evaluation of the experience and it is this evaluation that intensifies our feelings. In other words, our thinking makes things worse. But we cannot change our thinking on our own without some guidance.
Here’s a metaphor to explain this:
One day a big fish was swimming in the ocean and ran into two small fish swimming in the opposite direction. The big fish smiled and asked “Howdy boys! How is the water?” The two little fish smiled back but didn’t say anything. After a while, one of the small fish turns to the other and said, “What is water?”
This story goes to show that we often swim in our stress and irrational thinking without even being aware of it, without investigating or questioning it. Systematic therapy can help deconstruct your thinking and as a result, change the way you feel. This is the essence of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Read about a very effective technique I teach my clients called “Trains” here.
Furthermore, we are wired for survival, programmed to respond to situations we perceive threatening. Sometimes the brain confuses things and triggers a defensive response even when we are not under threat. This may be because of previous trauma or because of a hyperactive Amygdala (a primitive part of the brain all mammals have).
Your brain is playing tricks on you but with practice, you can train it to go down a different path, a more peaceful path. You can learn to soothe your brain by creating new behavioral pathways. This is the essence of learning emotional regulation. Read more about this here.
While it is true that you may have to live with your anxiety, you do not have to let it rule your life. With practice, your anxiety can reduce and even remain under control.