Anxiety is fear, but without the presence of an immediate threat, or with the perception of a greater threat than actually exists. It tends to be futuristic, anticipating negative outcomes and dismal “what if” scenarios. It also activates a struggle to control what feels out of control, or what realistically cannot be controlled.
Anxiety takes various forms: panic, worry and rumination, obsession/compulsion, phobias and post-traumatic stress. All of these anxiety states may cause physical distress in addition to emotional pain. That is because fear puts the body into a state of arousal that compels either direct confrontation of danger or flight from it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a normal survival response when danger is real and present. But when the danger is imagined, amplified, distorted, or anticipated to occur in the future, fight-or-flight occurs in the form of anxiety symptoms—as over-reactions which increase physical and emotional stress.
Panic, in particular, is characterized by intense physical symptoms, such as racing heart, shortness of breath, or feeling faint or light-headed. Panic attacks can occur in response to a specific trigger or for no apparent reason.
Other anxiety symptoms include difficulty sleeping, tightness in the chest, muscle tension, “butterflies” in the stomach, and headaches. Symptoms vary with the various forms of anxiety, and from person to person.
The good news is that the many forms of anxiety, both great and small, can be managed. I use cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based practices in our sessions to help you do this. I also will teach you mindfulness techniques to use outside of therapy sessions, when you feel anxious. It will allow you to diminish your physiological responses, as well as recognize the thought patterns and emotional reactions that trigger your arousal state. Cognitive therapy helps you reframe stressful thoughts and adopt a more flexible and tolerant mindset as you meet, rather than avoid, challenges.
What mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy both teach you is that you are not your thoughts, and suffering is not a life sentence without parole. You learn that anxiety, like all mood states, comes and goes, and you can allow it to go quietly without incident. As therapist, I will help you develop this skill.
Using psychodynamic therapy, I also will help you see into your own inner life with greater insight. Together we will deepen your understanding of how your earlier life experiences conditioned you to anticipate the worst and be fearful. Recognizing anxiety triggers as rooted in your past, less in your present, is critical to loosening their grip on you. As therapist, I will help you respond to your anxiety triggers in calmer, constructive ways, rather than by keeping yourself locked into a self-defeating cycle.