Anxiety and Stress are an unfortunate part of our American lifestyle. Most people experience at least some degree of Stress in their daily lives, and at least one episode of severe anxiety in their life time. The ability to manage and cope with anxiety and stress is a major determinant in life satisfaction, and even life span. Some people are stressed following a distressing life event or about an upcoming event, but the anxiety or stress is about some antecedent. Other people tend to struggle more chronically with anxiety and stress, and it doesn’t seem to have any one cause.
Stress is something that is very common and yet very harmful to our mental and physical health. Many people struggle with work-related stress, since many workplaces have almost unattainable standards of performance. Other sources of stress are major life transitions, losses of relationships or loved ones, and negative thinking patterns. Many skills can be learned through therapy, from how to be assertive and say “no” to people, tangible skills to reduce stress, to help with procrastination/time management.
In contrast with stress, Anxiety disorders are more chronic and have more to do with the way the brain processes events/thoughts/feelings than they are due to any certain event. The main anxiety disorders that I assist with are: OCD, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Agoraphobia, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
OCD is a disorder that is complex and it’s symptoms are unique to everyone who struggles with it. It is certainly not something to be joked about. I often hear “I’m so OCD about that.” I’m sure if you struggle with OCD, you know how painful it is and how helpless you can feel. The characteristics of OCD include: obsessional thinking about unacceptable things (“unacceptable” to the individual afflicted) and repetitive behaviors that seem to neutralize the thoughts (or make them seem less horrible). People with OCD have a strong preference for things to be “black and white,” and can often appear to be a perfectionists. Uncertainty is frightening to these individuals, as it means there might be some validity to their obsessions.
Panic Disorder is often seen in people who also struggle with OCD. (Panic Disorder is characterized by recurrent Panic Attacks. These are sudden attacks of fear that cause intense and frightening physical reactions when there is no real threat or apparent reason.) People with any anxiety disorder tend to be more likely to experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime. When people with OCD experience a panic attack, they tend to incorporate it into their OCD framework and begin a cycle of obsession about having another panic attack. Often the worry of having another panic attack causes a cycle where panic attacks become chronic.
Agoraphobia is sometimes seen when OCD has gone untreated for a period of time. (Agoraphobia is an irrational fear of wide open or crowded spaces.) When someone with OCD has strong fears (due to obsessions running rampant), these can discourage them from going to places deemed (by them) to be unsafe. If this fear/avoidance cycle continues, they will eventually have trouble going out to do even the most basic errands, and will become home-bound.
I use a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention, and Prolonged Exposure to help individuals with OCD, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. These are the most empirically validated methods that are currently available to treat these disorders. They involve “retraining” the brain to become more rational in its thinking. They also involve the element of gently and gradually “facing your fears,” which is the most important part to complete healing.
A specific phobia is a fear of something specific (it can be a thing or situation) that has become extreme and irrational, and causes avoidance of that which is feared. You are probably familiar with Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), but some other common phobias include: Acrophobia (fear of heights), Cynophobia (fear of dogs), Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning), Trypanophobia (fear of injections), Pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying), Mysophobia (fear of dirt or germs), and Social Phobia (fear of social situations).
People don’t always seek treatment for specific phobias because they are easily avoided. However there are times when someone with fear of flying, for example, will need to fly. Someone with fear of dogs, cannot escape seeing dogs out in the world, unless they stay home. Therefore, it is very important to seek help for phobias. The longer a specific phobia exists, the more ingrained and anxiety provoking it becomes.
I use a combination of relaxation techniques, guided imagery, and Systematic Desensitization to help clients overcome specific phobias. These involve slowly “desensitizing” over time to the phobia, and using relaxation and imagery to help support this process and calm the mind and body.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a disorder that results from a highly traumatic event. It is characterized by the mind reliving the traumatic event as though it were happening in present time (flashbacks) or through nightmares. People who struggle with PTSD can show physical signs of stress that are apparent to the people around them, such as hypervigilance, and the appearance of being “jumpy.”
I use relaxation strategies to help cope with the symptoms of PTSD, and when my client feels ready, I use Prolonged exposure to guide my client through the healing process.
Anxiety can be debilitating, but it’s also very treatable. You do not have to continue suffering with anxiety. I can offer you tools, support and expertise to help you feel better and live beyond fear.