Anxiety—as unpleasant as it can be—is a very real and completely normal part of the human experience. It’s our natural defense to potential threats or dangerous situations. And while most of us view anxiety as an unpleasant emotion, it’s also one of the biggest reasons why people seek therapy.
So, what can you do to relieve stress, stop worrying, and help your anxiety? This article aims to provide a better understanding of anxiety, and how anxiety treatment can benefit you.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions. In the U.S. alone, 40 million adults over the age of 18 (or 18% of the population) are diagnosed with an anxiety dis-order every year, according to the ADAA.
While anxiety looks different in everyone, it can ultimately interfere with our day-to-day lives. Once someone gets to a point where they’re avoiding certain people, places, or situations because of their consistent worry, anxiety becomes problematic and can turn into an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety plays a role in the following conditions:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may predict disaster and be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues.
- Panic Disorder: Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include shaking, sweating, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: intense and excessive fear of being judged by others in social situations.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: OCD involves recurrent thoughts and behaviors that can be both challenging and tiring for those affected by it.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Anxiety following a traumatic event.
So What Can You Do About Your Anxiety?
Mindfulness. When anxiety leaves you feeling overly stressed and worried, it’s hard to step away from those negative or unhelpful thoughts. As an increasingly popular tool for physical and mental health, mindfulness is a concept often introduced in a therapeutic setting and has helped people change their relationship with anxiety.
Mindfulness is made up of the following concepts:
- Awareness. One skill of mindfulness includes paying attention and recognizing what's going on around you, such as different sounds or smells and inside you-like thoughts and feelings.
- Nonjudgmental observation. This skill focuses on viewing your encounters in a non-judgmental way instead of labeling them as either "good" or "bad."
- Being in the present. Rather than getting caught up in anxiety or worry, mindfulness includes being in touch with what's happening right here, right now.
- Beginner's mind. This skill focuses on observing or seeing things rather than what we think or judge them to be.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is one of the most widely recognized therapeutic interventions for anxiety. As a problem-specific, goal-oriented approach, CBT focuses on the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
CBT is based on a number of beliefs, including the following:
- Unhelpful ways that people think can lead to psychological problems.
- If people learn unhelpful behavior, this, too, can lead to psychological issues.
- People can learn more beneficial ways of thinking and behaving.
- New habits can relieve symptoms of mental and physical conditions and allow people to act in better ways.
Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is used to treat people who experience extreme anxiety and phobias. It involves gradual, controlled exposure to the thing you’re afraid of, through repeated and prolonged contact. With the guidance of a professional, you’ll ultimately feel more confident in your ability to cope with the fear and get past it.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: ACT has been incredibly effective in treating a variety of anxiety disorders. As the name implies, ACT focuses on acceptance. You and your therapist will work together to practice acceptance of your current circumstances, uncomfortable emotions, and thoughts, ultimately changing your relationship with them. Additionally, ACT incorporates your values and choosing your actions in ways that align with them.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable and can be managed with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. For those who experience mild symptoms, treatment may not be necessary.
Working with a therapist can help you learn tools and strategies to cope with symptoms and ultimately live a happy, healthy life.