Feelings of anxiety are totally normal, and people can experience it in our daily lives in multiple situations. For example, just before an exam when the nerves are in full bloom or when we can’t fall asleep because we have to make an important decision.
Anxiety is a normal and adaptive reaction that occurs in situations of stress or uncertainty. However, when anxiety causes functional impairment, it affects different areas of our life (interpersonal relationships, work, school…) and causes great discomfort and suffering, then it may be an anxiety disorder. In this case, psychological therapy is necessary.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Negative anxiety can manifest for different reasons, as there are different types of anxiety disorders. Some people are very afraid to speak in public (social phobia) and therefore tend to avoid situations where they are exposed to this discomfort.
Others have irrational and catastrophic thoughts almost daily about events that have not happened and which are very unlikely to happen (generalized anxiety disorder), and others feel great discomfort when reliving a traumatic event from the past (post-traumatic stress disorder). Regardless of the type of anxiety, some symptoms characteristic of this disorder are:
- Intense and irrational fear.
- Excessive worries.
- Dizziness, muscle tensions, shortness of breath, dry mouth or fatigue.
- Avoidance of feared situations.
- Repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
- Difficulties for sleeping
Treatments For Anxiety
If you think you’re one of those people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, you should know that you’re not alone, because this is a very common problem. Since there are different types of anxiety disorder, each has a specific treatment.
However, the psychologists we can provide a series of techniques that help improve the states of anxiety, but the problem does not subside if you do not do your part. It is your responsibility to implement certain habits and strategies in your life to make anxiety stop being a problem.
If you want to know what treatments are applied in the therapeutic sessions, below you can find a list of the most relevant, outstanding treatments and approaches:
1- Relaxation Techniques
Our body reacts to anxious thoughts with muscle tension and a series of physiological reactions. When an anxious person interprets a situation as threatening, the fight-and-flight response is activated, a series of hormones are released and the autonomous nervous system prepares the individual to respond to a dangerous situation.
Relaxation techniques aim to teach individuals to relax, learn to breathe correctly and decrease physiological activation. There are various types of relaxation techniques, for example, Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique or Schultz autogenic training.
2- Exposure Techniques
Anxiety is not a pleasant sensation, so people who suffer from this disorder try to avoid situations that cause discomfort. A very common way of doing this is to get away from the situation or the anxious stimulus. If someone is afraid to speak in public, they can avoid attending their best friend’s wedding to avoid giving a speech in front of all attendees. If someone is afraid to fly, they can drive for days to avoid getting on a plane.
Exposure therapy, as its name implies, involves exposing the patient to feared situations or objects. The idea is that through repeated exposures, it will acquire a sense of control over anxiety, and the situation will tend to disappear. Exposure techniques are used in cases of phobias and other anxiety disorders (e.g. obsessive-compulsive disorder) and are characterized because the patient must confront the feared stimulus until the anxiety is reduced by habituation.
This type of technique makes it possible to prevent escape or avoidance from becoming a safety response. By doing so, a hierarchy of feared stimuli is usually established, so that the patient can gradually move closer to these stimuli. These types of techniques can be carried out both live and imaginary. Nowadays, thanks to the new technologies, it is possible to realize these techniques through virtual reality. Exposure therapy may be used alone or may be performed as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
3- Systematic Desensitization
Instead of facing the situation or feared object immediately, it is possible that the treatment and the exhibition will start with a situation that is only slightly threatening, to go working little by little until the goal. This approach, which is characterized by step by step, is called systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization allows you to gradually challenge fears, build confidence, and master panic control skills.
Systematic desensitization is similar to exposure techniques (and for some authors, it is included within them). However, there are some differences between the two treatments. While in the expository techniques habituation is used to overcome anxiety, in systematic desensitization counter-conditioning is used. In systematic desensitization, the approximation to the stimulus occurs gradually, but in the exposure technique, the rate of approximation depends on the time, the patient’s disposition and the rate of habituation.
Systematic desensitization includes three parts:
- Learn relaxation skills, and once the patient faces their fears, use these relaxation techniques to reduce their anxiety response and stimulate relaxation.
- Make a list step by step. 10 to 20 feared situations are selected to progress to the final goal. For example, if you want to overcome the fear of flying, the first step may be to look at photographs of planes.
- Work the steps under the guidance of the therapist. The patient is exposed to the feared situation and replaces anxiety with learned techniques.
4- Cognitive Restructuring
Cognitive restructuring is based on the idea that the way we feel, behave and respond to situations based on our way of thinking, so this technique attempts to modify dysfunctional thinking patterns and beliefs.
Cognitive restructuring is derived from cognitive therapy (but also used in cognitive behavioral therapy) that can help people identify and challenge thought patterns and beliefs that cause anxiety. The purpose of this technique is the modification of the patterns of thought of the patient through different methods.
5- Pharmacological Techniques
In some cases, it is advisable to supplement the psychological treatment with pharmacological treatment, especially in situations where symptoms need to be reduced quickly, such as to treat a panic attack.
However, medicines should be combined with different cognitive and behavioral techniques and gradually replaced by them. Drugs can create addiction and intolerance, so it is necessary to be cautious about their use and self-medication should be avoided. Two types of drugs are commonly used in the treatment of anxiety: anxiolytics and antidepressants.
Mindfulness belongs to third-generation psychological therapies. One of the programs most commonly used for the treatment of anxiety disorders is the MBCT (Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) or Cognitive Therapy based on Mindfulness. The program combines meditation with the acquisition of practical skills that characterize cognitive therapy, such as the interruption of thought patterns that lead to anxiety symptoms.
Mindfulness, rather than a set of techniques, is a philosophy that focuses on self-acceptance, compassion, attention and adopting a non-judgmental mindset. It is based on the idea that it is not events that cause anxiety, but how we interpret them and how we deal with them. It is not a question of eliminating anxiety but of accepting it because by not resisting it, anxious symptomatology is reduced.
Go To Psychotherapy, The Best Option To Overcome Anxiety
As for the treatment of anxiety disorders, science shows that psychotherapy is generally the most effective option. Therapy helps the patient discover the underlying causes of their concerns and fears; it allows them to learn to relax and look at situations from a new perspective and gives them the possibility to develop better coping and problem-solving skills. Therapy facilitates the tools to overcome anxiety and teaches how to use them.
The duration of treatment will depend on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder. However, many anxiety therapies are relatively short, because the vast majority of people improve at 8-10 therapeutic sessions.