Anxiety starts for a reason, it doesn’t just appear with no advanced warning, even though it feels like it at the time. Like anything there are a unique combination of factors that come together to provide the optimum conditions for its presence: what we learned from our parents, experiences growing up, traumas, a natural tendency towards worry, a lack of self esteem, a stressful period in one’s life, isolation and loneliness. That’s why starting some sort of talking therapy to unpick the why’s and wherefores is a good idea.
A good friend of mine who’d been suffering debilitating panic attacks that meant she could no longer go to work, took a two pronged approach and saw two therapists at a time: one to look at where the anxiety came from and another who through CBT gave her the skills to challenge her anxious thought patterns.
Not everyone can afford two therapists at a time, so that’s why I would say an integrative approach is the best as neither one school has all the answers.
But anyway, here’s a quick introduction to some therapeutic approaches most of which I’ve tried and have found helpful.
CBT is a practical technique giving people ways to deal with overwhelming problems by breaking them down in a systematic way into smaller parts. You are given ways to challenge those anxious thoughts that seem so convincing, which in turn improves the way you feel.
Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.
There can be between 5-20 sessions and it is a very targeted approach.
CBT is a must try approach for anyone with anxiety and like anything consistency and patience is the key. Limited sessions are usually available through your general practitioner.
As I mentioned previously there are a multitude of therapeutic approaches from long term psychoanalysis to Gestalt, counselling and many more. Recommendation can be helpful rather than going into something blind. And it’s a good idea to check their credentials with the professional organisation in your country.
An approach that I haven’t tried but is apparently useful for anxiety is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, with many believing that trying to change thoughts isn’t the key, but acceptance is.
The essence of the therapy is letting go of the struggle to control thoughts, being mindfully aware of the present moment and committing to a course of action that is consistent with what you most value in life.
Very much the rage at the moment, mindfulness is about developing the ability to be in the present moment, without changing anything or judging what’s happening.
It’s possible to practice mindfulness in every waking moment, in fact right now as I write this post if I direct the attention to all the sensations present, that’s mindfulness too. But for most people it’s learning how to meditate sitting down or while walking, plus other exercises.
Mindfulness comes from buddhist spiritual practice, but can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their religious views and was brought into the mainstream by an American doctor called Jon Kabat Zinn. He developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme which has been offered by medical centres, hospitals and private therapists.
For anxiety prone peeps, it’s a useful technique as it strengthens the ability to stay present and not race off so much into the future, worrying etc. That also means staying with the feeling of anxiety as it happens rather than doing what most of us do and find any means possible to avoid it.
I was referred to this course through my doctor as I was lucky enough to live in an area where it was available through the National Health Service. Again like anything consistency is the key as mindfulness is like planting seeds that you have to water before you harvest the fruits.
If you decide to do a mindfulness course, make sure it is with a qualified teacher as there are a few people taking advantage of the ‘mindfulness gold rush’ and offering classes with little or no training.
4. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
This is a cross between a talking therapy and energetic work and uses tapping on meridians while talking through traumatic or stressful past events. Apparently the technique accesses the amygdala, which any anxiety sufferer worth their salt would know, is the part of the brain involved in the fight or flight response that for some reason is oversensitized in someone with chronic anxiety.
A good friend of mine is a practitioner and has done it on me a few times, and it did bring up some interesting past trauma and neutralise its energetic charge.
The idea is also that you do tapping on yourself when you are in the midst of an anxiety episode. The only trouble is that if you’re in public it does look a bit odd if you start tapping around your head and chest – or maybe it would just be a good shame busting exercise!
Chronic anxiety is a habitual way of thinking with associated bodily reactions such as tightness in the chest, dry mouth, shallow breathing, etc. So it would make sense that a technique that seeks to change this habitual thinking, reprogramming the subconscious mind would be effective in some way at alleviating anxiety.
Using the power of suggestion, it works to promote positive change. These suggestions can be tailored to help you learn what triggers your anxiety and why, as well as changing the way you react towards them.
Hypnotherapy can begin to teach you how to regain a sense of control and normality. It can help you understand what triggers your anxiety and how to cope when you start to feel anxious.
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