We all worry from time to time and call it “stress.” However, if you experience constant fear about vague issues that can never be resolved, or if these feelings interfere with your functioning and well-being, you might benefit from anxiety therapy.

Research shows that anxiety is the most common mental health disorder, affecting 40 million adults in the United States. Yet, only 36% of them get treatment. The good news is, there are many different tools and resources for managing stress and treating anxiety. The providers at Orange County Health Psychologists in Irvine, California, have expertise in a wide variety of treatment methods and are ready to help you.

For more information on anxiety therapy, take a look at the following brief guide and contact us for an appointment when you’re ready.

Signs you may need anxiety therapy

Here are some of the most common signs of anxiety. Emotionally, you may feel:

  • Nervous
  • Restless
  • Irritable
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Excessively worried
  • Fearful of certain situations, often to the point of avoiding them
  • A sense of “dread” or impending doom, for no obvious reason

Physically, you may also experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Trembling
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Anxiety also comes in many forms. Next, we’ll take a look at some types of anxiety that may sound familiar to you.

Common types of anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): If you have GAD, you may feel a level of fear in situations that’s out of proportion to what’s actually happening. You might try to manage your feelings by overthinking the details of situations to avoid bad outcomes. Making decisions also becomes very difficult, for fear of making the “wrong” one. Even when there’s nothing to worry about specifically, you might consistently worry about broad issues like your own health or your family’s safety, for example. Or, you might just have a vague fear that something bad will happen. Letting go of your worries can be very difficult, leaving you feeling on edge.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): With OCD, you will experience unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that cause you to repeatedly do things to relieve your stress (compulsions). These thoughts and behaviors turn into a cycle that feels impossible to stop, even though you want to. Some common examples: fear of germs that leads you to constantly wash your hands, or a fear of making a mistake that makes you check your work over and over again.

Panic Disorder: Within minutes, you might feel a sense of extreme terror when there’s no apparent cause. You have panic attacks that may include rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, chest pain, and a feeling of dread. These symptoms can be so frightening that you may feel like you’re having a heart attack or about to die. What’s worse, you may then develop an overwhelming fear of having another panic attack, which adds to the anxiety and becomes fear of fear.

Social Anxiety Disorder: Interacting with others becomes very difficult with social anxiety disorder. You may worry about embarrassing yourself or being judged and criticized by others. Speaking to others and making eye contact can be stressful. You may also worry about looking nervous. All of this may lead you to avoid social situations and/or overly analyze your performance afterward, perhaps going over everything you think you did wrong.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD can develop after you experience a traumatic event. You may have unwanted memories or distressing dreams of the incident even years after it occurred and they can interfere with your daily activities. Emotionally you may feel numb, detached from others, and hopeless. You may feel hypervigilant (always on the lookout for danger) and might have trouble sleeping or concentrating.

Phobias: If you have a specific phobia, you experience an intense fear of certain objects or situations that is out of proportion to the level of risk. You might be afraid of snakes, heights, flying, needles, medical or dental procedures, etc. These phobias can be strong enough to lead to panic attacks when you encounter the source of your fear.

Some different ways to spot anxiety

Certain anxiety symptoms can be emphasized in certain groups. Here are some specific signs to look for depending on your age, gender, and/or situation. (Keep in mind these aren’t comprehensive, only examples.)

Older adults might have anxiety triggered by an illness, fall, or the death of a spouse. Often, it coincides with depression. Sometimes, they’ll have physical symptoms, such as chest pains,  leading them to see their primary care physician or visit the ER. (For help with anxiety in older adults, see Dr. Kristin KleppeDr. Erica Lehman, or Dr. Lyn Truesdell.)

Children might act out worries or traumatic events in their stories or play, or cling to their parents, while teens might show changes in their school performance, usually for the worse. (For help with anxiety in kids, see Dr. Carrie Kimpton Heald.)

New moms can have intrusive thoughts about something bad happening to their baby, fear of hurting the baby, and/or upsetting mental images involving the baby. These can then lead to repetitive, compulsive behaviors to try to manage their fears. (For help with postpartum OCD, see Dr. Pooja Sharma.)

Women who have experienced domestic violence can be triggered into flashbacks by something that reminds them of their abuser. They might also feel hopeless, thinking that the world is unsafe. (For help with anxiety after domestic violence, see Dr. Parul Patel.)

Military veterans, police officers, or first responders, traumatized in the line of duty, may later have flashbacks as if events were happening again. They may also feel emotionally reactive, easily startled, and constantly “on guard.” (For help with PTSD, see Dr. Mandy MountMario D’Aliesio, or Dr. Nikki Rotert.)

Causes of anxiety

Many factors are thought to be involved in causing anxiety including genetic factors and early childhood experiences. A parent with anxiety increases risk not only due to genetics but by not raising a child to feel a sense of safety and security in the world. Additionally, any type of traumatic experience increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder including medical trauma, especially in childhood. Finally, certain medical conditions can cause anxiety, such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and hyperthyroidism.

Treatment for anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely researched and effective approaches for treating anxiety. It focuses on challenging your negative thoughts that lead to anxious feelings and behavior. When you come in for CBT, your provider will help you identify those negative thoughts, reframe them, and replace them with more helpful ones. CBT can also help you learn to better recognize the physical symptoms of anxiety and use relaxation techniques to reverse an anxious reaction.

Other forms of therapy can be weaved into CBT to customize your treatment plan and increase its effectiveness. We often integrate the following:

  • ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) — focuses on learning to embrace your negative thoughts rather than resisting them, in order to decrease their power
  • Schema Therapy — focuses on dismantling larger themes of negative beliefs and behaviors

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a natural form of anxiety therapy that you can start doing now. So what is mindfulness? It simply means to focus on the present moment. A lot of our anxiety comes from troubling thoughts about the past or future, so mindfulness meditation can re-center your focus and therefore soothe your anxiety.

You can train your mind to focus on the present by using free guided mindfulness meditations on your own — or if you’re working with a clinician, he or she can integrate mindfulness meditation into your treatment.

If you’re interested in mindfulness meditation as an anxiety therapy, you can reach out to Dr. Pooja SharmaDr. Priya Parikh, or Susan McIntyre.

EMDR Therapy

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a therapy that was originally designed to treat traumatic memories (making it very effective with PTSD), but it can be used to address any past or future experience that gives you anxiety. EMDR therapy has been highly researched and consistently proven to be highly effective.

In EMDR therapy, your clinician will instruct you direct your eye movements (such as by looking at a moving light), tap, or listen to different tones as you recall the event that traumatized you. This is done in small doses. As your attention is diverted while you bring up the disturbing memory, your mind learns it can experience the memory without having a psychological response.

After several sessions, you should notice your anxiety reduce around the memory. Any unwanted behaviors and habits you developed to manage that anxiety should no longer feel compulsive or necessary.

Over 100,000 clinicians around the world practice EMDR, including our team at Orange County Health Psychologists. If you’re interested in exploring this highly effective form of anxiety therapy, see Dr. Nikki RotertDr. KaMala Thomas, Mario D’Aliesio, Susan McIntyre, or Dr. Kristin Kleppe.

Other  

There are many other evidence-based therapies and treatment options for anxiety including medication, nutritional supplements, cranial electrical stimulation, yoga and much more. Please see any of our providers for more information.  

Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists