Most of us are familiar with the word “Anxious”. We use it often, whether it’s a friend talking about her upcoming job interview or your sibling talking about his exams. For that matter, even we have experienced this state of anxiousness at some point of time in life. In this post we will look at all the frequently asked questions about anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
It is a common feeling that many of us experience at some point in our lives. It is a state of nervousness or restlessness that a person feels when they come across certain life situations. While some amount of anxiety is normal, excessive anxiety can interfere with daily activities and lead to deeper problems such as anxiety disorders.
What is Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. The feelings of anxiety do not go away for a person with this disorder and can worsen over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, studies, work, and relationships. The individual feels uncontrollable fear even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. Research shows that one in every four Indians is affected by anxiety disorders, with 10% also experiencing depression.
The underlying physiological mechanism behind anxiety disorders is the prolonged activation of stress hormones such as cortisol and corticotropin-releasing hormone. These hormones are typically released in response to immediate threats, but when stress persists, they can lead to an excessive increase in anxiety levels.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Anxiety can have Physical, Emotional & Behavioural Symptoms.
Our fight-flight responses are activated whenever there is a threat in the environment. Because of this, our body triggers certain chemicals, and we feel certain emotional states. All of this is accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.
The other effects may include withdrawal from situations that have provoked anxiety in the past. For example, a person may not be willing to go for exams as exams triggered anxiety in the past. Changes in sleeping patterns, nervous habits like nail biting and increased motor tension like foot tapping are some of the many other effects.
Depending on the person, these symptoms can range in number, intensity, and frequency. While almost everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives, most do not develop long-term problems with anxiety. However, a few do.
How does Anxiety develop?
Static anxiety is triggered by specific stimuli and can be understood using the ABC model of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). The ABC model stands for Activating Events, Beliefs, and Consequences.
Activating Event: Interacting with an authoritative figure, such as a teacher, boss, or parent.
Beliefs: The individual may have negative thoughts and beliefs associated with authority figures, such as “authority figures are always critical and judgmental,” “I can’t stand up for myself in front of authority figures,” or “I am not good enough for authority figures to approve of me.” These beliefs may stem from past experiences with authority figures, such as being scolded or criticized by a teacher or feeling powerless and unable to assert oneself in front of a parent.
Consequences: The individual may experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension when interacting with authority figures. They may also experience emotional symptoms such as fear, worry, and panic and behavioural symptoms such as avoiding interactions with authority figures or struggling to speak up or express themselves in front of them.
In this way, the ABC model helps individuals to understand and identify the specific stimuli that trigger their anxiety and the associated thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their response.
Free Floating Anxiety:
Free-floating anxiety refers to a type of anxiety that is not tied to a specific trigger or event. It’s a general sense of unease or worry that seem to come out of nowhere and can be hard to pinpoint.
For example, imagine a person who wakes up in the morning feeling anxious and worried without any particular reason or trigger. They can’t identify what’s causing the anxiety, and it persists throughout the day, affecting their mood and ability to focus on their tasks. This person might have free-floating anxiety, not tied to a specific event or trigger.
The underlying cause of Free-floating anxiety is not entirely understood, but it is believed to be a combination of various factors. These include genetics, as some people may have a tendency towards an anxious personality that runs in families. Brain chemistry and its balance of neurotransmitters also play a role in the development of free-floating anxiety. Adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or the loss of a parent, can also increase the risk of developing free-floating anxiety later in life. Environmental stressors, such as work or financial pressures, can also contribute. Furthermore, people with other mental health conditions, such as depression or schizophrenia, may also be at a higher risk.
What are the different types of Anxiety?
General anxiety disorders
People with generalized anxiety disorder display excessive anxiety or a general sense of worry all day long with no real reason.
People of this type usually have health-related problems, which may be due to financial and social problems.
Phobias are excessive unrealistic, illogical and uncontrollable fear elicited by an object, situation, or activity. Phobias are often accompanied by physical manifestations like muscular tension, respiratory changes, hyperventilation, vocal cords tightening, and cold hands or feet.
Some of the common phobias are social phobias, fear of dying, height, animals, water, fear of impending danger, closed Spaces, loss of control etc.
Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions). Repetitive behaviours such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed to prevent obsessive thoughts or make them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals” provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.
Specific Phobias, panic disorders and OCD are generally considered examples of Static Anxiety, whereas Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an example of free-floating anxiety.
How can therapists help clients overcome Anxiety?
The actual steps involved in working with Anxiety would depend upon the intensity and the specific type the client is experiencing.
Having said that, an eclectic approach to therapy is the most recommended for almost all kinds of anxiety-related issues.
- The biggest advantage of an eclectic approach is that a therapist can work with both the symptoms and the cause of anxiety.
- Thought restructuring or the when-then technique can help clients change their anxiety-triggering thoughts. SWISH can help change the association with mental images that were triggering anxiety.
- In the case of static anxiety: the NLP Fast Phobia cure, hypnotic desensitization and anchoring can help by conditioning the mind with a new response (like calmness, humour…) with the original stimulus.
- Different release processes like Circle therapy or inner child work from hypnosis can help release suppressed emotions. Regression and regression therapy can be used to work with past traumatic experiences that may be responsible for the onset of the disorder.
If you are a psychologist who would like to master the most comprehensive eclectic approach to psychotherapy, you must check out the Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapy™ Program. The program is based on the systematic and seamless integration of different approaches to psychotherapy (cognitive, behavioural, psycho-dynamic and humanistic).