Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Anxiety

Anxiety doesn't always look the same for every person, or even for the same person from day to day, but its effects are cumbersome. The weight of anxiety can make you feel trapped, like there is nowhere for your life to go but downward, but know that treatment is both readily available and highly effective.  We all go through periods of internal strife, of worry and frustration. For some, these periods might be temporary and seldom, but for many, it can feel like there is no end to the struggle and stress.

 

Anxiety is a constant fearful state, accompanied by a feeling of unrest, dread, or worry in which the person may not be aware of what is creating the feeling of fear. The symptoms can be both emotional and physical.

 

Anxiety is an adaptive physiological, cognitive, and emotional reaction that alerts/orients one to imminent or approaching danger/threat.  It mobilizes internal resources to respond to that danger/threat (fight or flight response).

 

Anxiety becomes maladaptive when its intensity, frequency, and/or irrationality causes distress or interferes with functioning. 

 

Anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the individual client.  Some of these may include mindfulness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, psycho-education, social skills training, emotion regulation techniques and medication. 

 

We all have anxiety.  Anxiety is often not the problem.  It is what we do to mask it that gets us unto trouble.  

 

Common ways to mask include:  avoidance, staying very busy, reactivity, drinking, drugs, gambling, shopping, eating and others.

 

Fear vs. Anxiety

 

Fear is more of a present-moment emotional experience.  Fear is what you experience when you are actually in a stressful or threatening situation.  If a wild animal is running toward you, you will experience fear.

 

Anxiety, on the other hand, is more of a future-focused emotion.  If you are walking through the woods you may experience anxiety about being chased by a wild animal.  

 

Riding on a roller coaster:  Anxiety is what you experience as you are slowly climbing up a hill.  Fear is what you experience as you rush down that hill.

 

Anxiety is the anticipation of an event; fear is the experience of an event.

 

Both fear and anxiety serve the purpose of telling you that you may be in a situation where there is risk of harm.  Both emotions feel similar in the body.

 

Anxiety serves an additional purpose.  Specifically it tells you that something is important or has meaning to you.  For example when you have a job interview and you want the position, you are likely to feel anxious.  If the job interview were for a position you don’t want, you would likely feel less anxious.

 

The Fight or Flight Response

 

The body’s hard-wired alarm system, the creates changes in your body. These may include:

 

  • Increase in heart rate

  • Perspiration or sweating

  • Narrowing of field of vision (tunnel vision)

  • Muscle tension

  • Sensitive hearing

  • Racing thoughts

  • Shortness of breath

  • Goose bumps

  • Dry mouth

 

These reactions are not random; they all serve the purpose of getting you prepared for immediate action.  They are preparing you to flee the situation to avoid harm or to fight if escape is not possible. This response is automatic, and occurs without thinking.

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