THERAPY FOR ANXIETY
Everyone feels anxious from time to time. But those who experience extreme fear and worry that does not subside may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. The frequency and intensity of anxiety can severely impair a person’s functioning in family life, work, and social environments. Fortunately, the majority of people with an anxiety disorder improve considerably by getting effective psychological treatment.
Dr. Zackson sees people with many different kinds of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worry uncontrollably. Even though they try to stop thinking about their worries, they can’t. This disorder involves feelings of nervousness, tension, and underlying dread that impacts your life. Symptoms include the inability to relax or be by yourself, difficulty concentrating, putting things off because you feel overwhelmed, avoiding situations that make you anxious, and physical symptoms (feeling tense, muscle tightness, sleep issues, feeling restless, stomach problems, nausea, diarrhea)..
Individuals with Social Anxiety deal with fear of certain social situations, especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel you’ll be negatively evaluated by others or will embarrass or humiliate yourself. Very often these situations can be so scary that you simply avoid them. Underlying social anxiety disorder is the fear of being scrutinized, judged, or embarrassed in public. Symptoms may include avoiding social situations to a degree that limits your activities or disrupts your life, staying quiet or hiding in the background in order to escape notice and embarrassment, a need to always bring a ‘buddy’ along with you wherever you go, or drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves.
People suffering from Panic Disorder experience frequent, unexpected panic attacks (sudden surges of overwhelming anxiety and fear: your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and you may even feel like you’re dying or going crazy). You may worry about having panic attacks and avoid places where you had a previous attack. The effects of panic attacks can leave a lasting imprint. If you have Panic Disorder, the recurrent panic attacks take an emotional toll. The memory of the intense fear and terror that you felt during the attacks can negatively impact your self-confidence and cause serious disruption to your everyday life.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational, but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free. OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may excessively double-check things, spend a lot of time washing or cleaning, ordering and arranging things, or accumulate a lot of unnecessary things.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO SEEK TREATMENT FOR THESE DISORDERS?
If left untreated, anxiety disorders can have severe consequences. For example, some people who suffer from recurring panic attacks avoid any situation that they fear may trigger an attack. Such avoidance behavior may create problems by conflicting with job requirements, family obligations, or other basic activities of daily living. People who suffer from an untreated anxiety disorder often also suffer from other psychological disorders, such as depression, and they have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Their relationships with family members, friends, and coworkers may become very strained, and job performance may decline.
TREATMENT FOR ANXIETY
When it comes to treating anxiety disorders, research shows that therapy is usually the most effective option. There are many different types of therapy used to treat anxiety. Dr. Zackson uses a variety of therapeutic modalities (psychodynamic, CBT, exposure therapy, interpersonal therapy, mindfulness) and tailors her approach to each person’s individual needs.
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COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
CBT is very useful in treating anxiety disorders because it addresses negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. The cognitive part helps people change thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations. For example, CBT can help people with social anxiety learn how to overcome the belief that others are always judging them. When people are ready to confront their fears, they are shown how to use exposure techniques to desensitize themselves to situations that trigger their anxieties. CBT therapists also teach deep breathing and other exercises to relieve anxiety and encourage relaxation. To be effective, CBT must be directed at the person’s specific anxieties and must be tailored to his or her needs.
In contrast to CBT, mindfulness-based therapies (MBTs) seek to change the relationship between the anxious person and his or her thoughts. The primary focus is on the bodily sensations that arise when a person is anxious: instead of avoiding or withdrawing from these feelings, he or she remains present and fully experiences the symptoms of anxiety. Instead of avoiding distressing thoughts, he or she opens up to them in an effort to realize that they are not literally true. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, this process enables anxious people to release their over-identification with negative thoughts. The person practices responding to disruptive thoughts and letting these thoughts go. MBT often involves relaxation techniques, which, when practiced regularly, can reduce anxiety and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
Psychodynamic therapy focuses on the psychological roots of an anxiety disorder. It involves self-reflection and self-examination, and the use of the relationship between therapist and patient as a window into problematic relationship patterns in the patient’s life. The goal is not only to alleviate the most obvious symptoms but to help people lead healthier lives.