Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Panic Disorder

A sudden surge of intense fear or discomfort. Individuals often change their behavior in a maladaptive way (usually avoidance) and have what is termed a Catastrophic Misinterpretation of Bodily Symptoms. Fear of dying, falling apart, fainting, or feeling detached from your body are common themes.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Socially anxious people fear being evaluated negatively, which is linked to their dysfunctional core beliefs about themselves and other people. They are anxious about appearing anxious in front of others. They tend to avoid certain interpersonal situations or endure them with a source of dread.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images. They are experienced as intrusive and unwanted, and cause anxiety or distress. People with this disorder try to ignore, suppress these thoughts or images. Compulsions are repetitive, somewhat stereotypic, overt rituals, or they can be mental acts. Most often compulsions are triggered by obsessions. People with this disorder often feel compelled to perform the compulsion until they have reached a specific state, such as a reduction of anxiety, a feeling of certainty; a sense of completeness, feeling safety/security, or a “just right” feeling.

Many people would describe themselves as “OCD”. In reality, many of us aren’t suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder so much as suffering from obsessive-compulsive worry. Obsessive-compulsive worry is like a negative spiral. The longer you focus on your anxious thoughts, the deeper you go into them. A hypnotic-like trance is developed by the repetition of these worries.

What’s important to realize is that obsessive-compulsive worriers tend to be very sensitive, intuitive, and bright people who tend to be more aware of what is happening around them then most other people are. This special ability to “pick up” on things can be scary. It can create a continuous state of high stress and internal tension/arousal.

The problem is that the more we spends time in our heads, the less we are connected to our bodies. We end up having “strange feelings and sensations” that scare us even further. Understanding that you possess these special abilities of insight and awareness is critical to understanding that there is nothing wrong with you. You just have to learn to focus and direct your special abilities.

This will take time. It will only happen if you enjoy yourself and your newfound abilities. Take the time to fine tune these abilities and learn where you can go. Changing your obsessive-compulsive worries will require some alternative thinking patterns and life style changes. If you find yourself stuck, a professional is often a good next step as you tackle the pros and cons of this type of anxious worry.

Treatment for Anxiety

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered to be an effective and reliable treatment for anxiety. It is the “gold standard” and the first line of approach that should be considered for treating anxiety disorders (Hofmann et al., 2012). CBT has also demonstrated to substantially improve symptoms of anxiety disorders for two or more years after treatment ended (Ishikawa, Okajima, Matsuoka, & Sakano, 2007). Because research studies often exclude individuals based on certain criteria, such as having other diagnoses, studies have also examined the use of CBT in real-world settings and found it to be an effective treatment under those circumstances as well (Stewart & Chambless, 2009). When focusing on specific anxiety disorders, research has found CBT to be an effective treatment for panic disorder, with some research suggesting that it may be superior to medication (Mitte, 2005). Research has also found that CBT is highly effective at treating social phobia (Powers, Sigmarsson, & Emmelkamp, 2008), with clients experiencing better outcomes after treatment is discontinued compared to clients who only received medication (Fedoroff & Taylor, 2001). Additionally, research has found that CBT leads to significant improvement in specific phobias, with treatment involving in-vivo exposure leading to greater improvement that imaginal or virtual reality exposure alone (Wolitzky-Taylor, Horowitz, Powers, & Telch, 2008). Finally, CBT that focuses on exposure exercises while preventing clients from using compulsions has been shown to be a highly effective treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder (Olatunji, Davis, Powers, & Smits, 2013).

How to Live with Anxiety

Depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems are things that we wish would “just go away.” The frustration in dealing with such problems is that they tend to last longer than we think is appropriate or comfortable. We find that our life goals have had to change as a result of these things. It helps to understand a few key issues in order to live the life you want while managing these problems.

Our Wish For a Quick Cure

We often expect that in the face of problems we can have a “quick solution”. We turn to professionals with the expectation that the “magical cures” will be found that will allow us to again return to living a “normal life.” As we read about our issues on the internet, news and other media, we hear about all of the newest scientific breakthrough for the latest medical problem leading us to expect that there is a “cure for everything.”

The reality is that quick cures are not easily available for most problems. This leaves us, and others, frustrated, angry, rebellious, depressed and upset wishing that we could blame others for not providing what it is that we need. Many times, our friends and family members secretly wish that we would “get over with it” and get on with our life.

Many Problems Become a Part Of Who We Are

What we do not want to hear is that many human problems are rooted in who we are in this world. We were not born with perfect bodies that came with warranties that claim we would always operate in perfect condition. The reality is that we have imperfect bodies, have inherited certain genetic traits, and have to suffer the consequences of injuries, illnesses, life events, and other problems that happen to us. Often what we experience in life “changes us” and alters a part of who we were before. This can scare and frustrate us.

For many, depression and anxiety are not only a reaction to a specific situation, but may also have their roots in what happened to us early in life. Sometimes, depression and anxiety are an inherited family condition that is transmitted from one generation to another. Regardless of where they came from, what this means is that it is more important to focus on how one is going to “manage a condition” rather than try to “solve it once and for all”.

Redefining Our Identity

As much as we hate to admit it, we are just human beings who are not perfect. We have to learn how to grow through problems, stress, struggles, and our present situation. We have to start to see the value of the present even if things are not perfect. We have to accept yourselves in the present moment, with the present problem, and the knowledge that there are no quick and easy answers that will “make it all go away.” We have to quit protesting and start to focus on how we are going to function regardless of our present situation and the problems in this situation.

Accepting The Reality Of Life

The reality of life is that the only way we are ever going to improve things is to understand that we have to continue to work on things on a daily basis. Knowing that “you have to do it everyday” is critical to reminding you that this is a task which must become a part of your life.

This does not mean that there is something wrong with you. In fact, once you accept the reality of the situation, then you have a better chance of feeling and functioning better in life. It’s critical that we stop looking for the quick solutions. Instead, we need to understand as much about your situation/condition and then start to work to handle it on a daily basis, even if this is something that we have to do the rest of our life. This take real maturity and an understanding of the reality of life.

Working on things may involve changing how we react to things, how we think about solutions, and how we live our daily lives. It may require occasional “fine tuning” with counseling and therapy in order to accomplish and maintain our changes in life. This is not a failure; instead, it is using “the right tool for the job” and also referred to as “not getting in our own way”.