While anxiety can be useful, for example making us vigilant in avoiding real danger, people who suffer from phobias or anxiety disorders are not responding to the reality of a situation. They could be anticipating a threat to that is very unlikely to materialize and they tend to magnify difficulties, dwell on possible negative outcomes and misinterpret reality.
In addition to worried thoughts or feelings of dread, sufferers also often experience physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, headaches, sweating, a tight throat, muscle pain and so on.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, but they have certain characteristics in common. For example, physical symptoms, which can cause anxiety in themselves – becoming anxious about feeling anxious. If the situation or object in question is avoided, the anxiety is temporarily relieved, but avoidance can prolong the condition.
Research indicates that people can learn to pinpoint their distressing thoughts and evaluate how realistic or true they are. As a consequence of changing their thoughts to more realistic ones, their anxiety decreases.
While situations can trigger thoughts automatically, we will teach you to notice the physical signs of anxiety and to examine each thought. Our psychologists will show you how to apply your powers of observation and reasoning skills to whatever is causing your anxiety. The process of testing ideas to determine their validity helps you decrease anxiety and deal with real-life situations. Through therapy you will learn to consider realistic outcomes, look for evidence to support or negate your thoughts, apply advice you would give to loved ones in the same circumstances, and create a plan of action for what to do next.
In addition, you will be encouraged to examine the effects of your anxious thinking, and realize that there is a time limit to the anxiety and that you can tolerate it for that period, and also see that nothing untoward happens if you face an irrational fear.
Common thinking errors will be addressed in your sessions, for example:
- Catastrophizing (expecting disastrous outcomes)
- Over-generalizing (broad statements emphasizing the negatives, such as ‘no one likes me)
- Exaggerating (viewing a simple obstacle as a sign of disaster)
- Ignoring the positive and seeing only the negative aspects of a situation
In treating anxiety, patients should remember that they only get out what they put in. It will take time and effort to identify and isolate old thought patterns and modify them into new ways of thinking.