About one in five people deal with anxiety on a daily basis. Feeling nervous, jittery, self-conscious or worried most of the time can take a toll on your well-being and a sense of meaning in life. After all, who doesn’t want to be relaxed enough to simply enjoy life?!
Anxiety is among the top 10 reasons why people go to see their physicians, and sometimes they don’t even know it! They may come in worried about their heart or general health but the underlying reason for their symptoms (e.g., dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating, sexual problems, etc.,) is actually due to anxiety. So what are the treatment options to get rid of those debilitating symptoms?
1) Medication. The truth is that it works. Medication can calm down your nervous system just enough for you not to feel the worst symptoms as much or not at all. Sounds great, right? Yes. Except, there are also a few negative aspects of taking the meds. First, most commonly prescribed medications come with a long list of side-effects. SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are commonly used to treat anxiety (as well as depression). They may cause nausea, restlessness, dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, headaches, difficulty becoming sexually aroused or reaching an orgasm, especially in the first month or two. If you haven’t notices, some of these side effects are the same as the symptoms of anxiety itself. Most of the side effects of SSRIs should diminish with time (especially the former ones), while others may linger for as long as you take the medication (especially the sexual ones). Another medication option, benzodiazepines, are basically sedatives, so they don’t just create a sense of calm, but also a sense of weakness, dizziness and sedation. Way to feel alive! (If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic). Additionally, medication can be addictive, especially the benzoes. While they reduce the most debilitating symptoms of anxiety for most people when taken as prescribed, they are also known to produce extreme anxiety, when discontinued. Simply put, they are very hard to quit.
2) Psychotherapy. Many people are not sure that talk therapy can have a real impact on physical symptoms such as chest pains, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, etc., but the truth is that therapy is as effective as medication. It’s been proven time and time again in large double-blind controlled studies. Therapy is not just a temporary bandage but it can actually treat anxiety for good, so even if you choose to start the medication, it’s a good idea to undergo therapy at the same time to make sure that by the time you try to wean yourself off the meds, you have the skills and tools necessary to succeed and stay symptom-free. So how does psychotherapy for anxiety work?
Therapy uncovers root causes and factors maintaining your anxiety
Like any other health issue, effective treatment gets to the root cause. For instance, your doctor can either prescribe a medication to try and manage your hypertension symptoms, or request you clean up your diet and exercise, addressing the root causes of your high blood pressure.
A therapist assists you in accessing your emotional world so you can study your thoughts and feelings and uncover patterns that perhaps have been adaptive to you at some point, but are no longer working for you today. Often, unhealthy beliefs and thoughts lie at the root of anxiety. Once you identify what is causing you anxiety, your therapist can begin to create a plan to help you face these underlying issues calmly and confidently. You learn new tools to get unstuck and move on to what really matters to you in your life.
Therapy helps you change your not-so-healthy behaviours
The thoughts and beliefs perpetuating your anxiety are not only making you feel bad, they may also push you to behave in ways that may result in negative consequences for your health or happiness. For instance, people with anxiety often avoid activities, which they associate with their symptoms. These may take a form of avoiding taking a crowded metro, parties with lots of people, concerts, classrooms or work place and end up with you having nothing left to do in your life but stay “safe” and unhappy. If happiness and mental health are what you’re after avoiding life is never the answer. Your therapist will help you find a way for you to stop avoiding scary, anxiety-provoking situations and start living the life you want. Therapy is also a place where you can learn how to cope with difficult, stressful situations in a more relaxed manner in a way that is most suitable for you. Reading articles online can give you some tips but if you want individualized solutions, tailored to your needs and values, you need to see somebody who can assist you in person.
Therapy offers continued personalized support
All change is hard, even change that’s ultimately good for you. One of the biggest benefits of therapy is that it offers personalized support. Your therapist wants to see you succeed and will offer encouragement and advice without judgement. You may not want your close ones to know all of your fears, worries and innermost thoughts, but therapist’s office offers a safe space to explore your inner world, think through your darkest thoughts and most daring dreams without being judged for it.
If you’ve been living with anxiety, know that you don’t have to deal with it alone. If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I’d be happy to chat with you, take you on as a client or refer you to somebody who’s also effective in treating anxiety. You have one life to live. Make it a good one.