Anxiety is a very widespread problem in our lives. It affects all of us in varying degrees. Some people are more prone to anxiety than others but it affects all of us. Anxiety is the root cause of many mental health problems like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Eating Disorders, Panic Disorders and many more.
Anxiety has the power to control our lives and it is linked to stress as it tends to trigger hormonal and chemical reactions in our body. Excessive anxiety can affect our digestive system, cause cardiac problems, affect our breathing mechanism and blood circulation. People with anxiety also suffer from hypertension, ulcers, asthma, arthritis and migraine. The immune system of the person with anxiety becomes very weak and makes him or her more susceptible to stress related illnesses.
Anxiety can be a very unpleasant emotion. It can be very intense that can cause us to react impulsively without rational thinking. It can cause the person to become phobic and avoidant. For example, a person who had a car accident will suffer from severe anxiety about driving a car again, may suffer from panic attacks and phobia of driving. As a result the person begins to avoid driving and sometimes becomes house bound as he or she does not feel comfortable going to places for running errands and face social situations.
Let’s look at the dynamic of anxiety and how it becomes full fledged. We always have some imagination about the Worst Case Scenarios and we are afraid that the thing we dread might happen in reality. So we become anxious because we are worried that it will happen.
The uncertainty element is the salient feature of anxiety. The stress is 300 times greater when things are not certain and they are hanging up in the air. For example, people racing cars in the Indy 500 race, do not have any anxiety when they are driving 200 miles an hour on the race tracks because they are in control. However, as soon as they have to stop and wait at the pit stop when the tire is flat, the anxiety level escalates to 300 times because they are not certain that they will be able to resume the race. So uncertainty becomes a big source of anxiety. As soon as we lose control of the situation, the anxiety thoughts are triggered and we begin to imagine the Worst Possible Scenario and engage in “What if” thinking.
Another example of anxiety is when people develop fears of elevators if they had a bad experience of getting stuck in the elevator. The avoidance behavior takes over and people begin to take stairs rather than taking the elevators. I had patients who would not visit their family members if they were admitted on 20 floor of the hospital building. So anxiety can make us feel crippled and sometimes dependent on others. Because the person has fears of going to the grocery store, he or she begins to rely on others to do their groceries rather than mastering the fear and taking the challenge of going to the stores independently. However, the trouble is, avoidance makes the fear even more deep seated. When we avoid these situations to avoid pain of anxiety experience, the mind begins to believe that that we are personally stopping the Worst Possible Scenarios it is linked from happening.
Anxiety has a tendency to grow like a forest fire. It begins to affect different aspects of our lives. The anxiety pretty soon gets generalized to similar situations and the person begins to avoid other stressful situations of life too. Thus anxiety can really tie us in knots by restricting our lives in many ways. That is how people develop phobias and find their lives controlled by their irrational fears.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) can develop too when the person becomes caught up in the belief that very serious Worst Possible Scenarios will happen should they fail to perform their rituals and engage in checking behaviors. People suffering from OCD believe that the ritual will reduce their anxiety. Thus, as the compulsion to perform rituals increases, anxiety can make them more prone to stress and worsen the problems to severe degrees.
Another factor to look at regarding anxiety is, that it affects our bodily reactions. We see a change in our heart beat, blood circulation, digestive system and breathing patterns. When anxious thoughts are being entertained in the mind, the sympathetic nervous system is aroused and it affects our bodily functions. Many people experience hyperventilation, rapid heart beat, dryness of mouth, dizziness because the oxygen level in the brain, heart and lung is reduced. Some of these symptoms can be confused with symptoms of heart attack, stroke and asthma. Now whenever these symptoms happen, the person begins to believe that he or she is sick, not knowing that the anxiety has triggered the onset of these physiological changes in the body. The fact is that the fear makes the anxiety worse. Pretty soon the person begins to sweat and gets a panic attack. Mild anxiety at level one on a ten point scale,(where 1 is mild anxiety and ten is most severe anxiety) escalates to even more severe levels, making the person experience a full blown panic attack.
Research has shown that there are some people who are typically more prone to experience anxiety than others.Additionally, certain experiences of childhood can make the person more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety. Our biological response to anxiety gets affected by experiences like physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, losses, accidents, traumas and other kinds of traumatic experiences.
There is an individual difference in how people experience anxiety. People react differently to stressful situations depending on their reaction style and perception. Some people are more negative thinkers and their perception always filter out the positive aspects of the situation. Consequently, they become focused on only the negative aspects by filtering out the positive. Such people tend to experience higher level of stress and anxiety when these situations occur in their lives.
Treatment of Anxiety
The best solution to remedy anxiety is to face the situation as opposed to avoiding them. Once you take the control back in your hands, you will not be so scared and anxious. Things are more scary when we try to run away from them. That is why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is focused on doing the imagery and real life desensitization of the person to treat anxiety and phobia. The person is exposed to anxiety provoking situations in small increments in imagination first and as they master the easier steps, they are exposed to slightly more anxiety provoking situations of the hierarchy, which is designed from least to most severe steps. It is a scientific way treating anxiety and gives good results without traumatizing the person. These desensitization sessions are first done in imagination to help prepare the person to cope with the real life desensitization.
Real life desensitization is called the Invivo therapy when the therapist takes the person in anxiety provoking situations systematically with his or her support. Hierarchy is designed from least anxiety provoking situation to most anxiety provoking situations.The person has to master the easier steps first before they get exposed to more difficult hierarchy steps.
The purpose of facing the fear is to start retraining the brain. The clients are taught that the Worst possible Scenario really does not happen because they learn to master the steps of their specific fears and phobias in real life. With practice, the person begins to associate positive feelings of confidence with those frightening situations. Thus desensitization helps the brain form new associations and old associations of discomfort are replaced by positive feelings and confidence.
In addition to desensitization, the person is taught to do deep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive self talk, thought stopping techniques, challenging mistaken beliefs, use of affirmations, work on self esteem to counter fears and phobias and learn effective coping skills. A therapist who is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will design the treatment program based upon the individual needs and offer help.
Hypnosis also helps do the subconscious programming of positive images and suggestions given to the client after inducing hypnotic trance. This facilitates the embedding of the suggestions in the subconscious mind, thereby facilitating growth of the person and making them more adept in coping with stressful and phobic situations. For more details please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page on www.cognitivehealing.com/hypnosis-services/
Reference: Stress, How to De-stress without doing less by Kate Middleton