photos by David Garrison at Pexels
by Andrea M. Darcy
While it is true that there are some personality types more prone to being anxious, it’s absolutely not true that you have to always suffer from anxiety or that anxiety is a life sentence.
Support in the form of psychological talk therapies is now evidence-based (proven by research) to help reduce or even resolve your anxiety completely.
But how does therapy help anxiety? What does it really involve?
[Uncertain if you are really suffering from anxiety at all? Read our piece on Anxiety vs Stress to find out.]
How does therapy help anxiety, exactly?
How can going to therapy (the very thought of which might leave you feeling even more anxious) actually make your anxiety any better?
It can help in the following ways:
1. You can finally admit the full extent of your anxiety.
Anxiety, because of it’s illogical nature, can leave us feeling ashamed of what we are going through, meaning we can hide our suffering from friends and family – and even from ourselves.
Just speaking out loud the true extent of all that you’ve been suffering can feel a huge relief.
2. You can be fully understood.
A therapist will not make you feel silly or judge you for being anxious. To the contrary, they will take your anxiety very seriously, and know exactly what you are talking about.
And nothing you tell an experienced therapist will surprise them – they will have dealt with many similar cases before.
3. You get clarity on why you suffer anxiety.
Anxiety often feels so unconnected to what’s really going on around you it can be impossible to see how it all began and ‘why you’, so to speak.
A therapist is trained and skilled at helping you sift through your life experiences to understand just how you might have developed anxiety as a coping mechanism.
4. You gain fresh insight into your triggers.
Anxiety can be connected to certain triggers, especially when it comes to anxiety disorders such as social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A therapist can help you get really clear on what those triggers are.
You might find that you can catch and circumvent your anxiety faster than you realise if you learn to really pay attention to things like the subtle bodily sensations that come before an anxiety attack.
5. You find new and effective ways of handling your anxiety.
Anxiety is an awful, uncomfortable feeling for most people.
So when anxiety hits, we develop ways of trying to not feel it, which might provide short-term relief. Of course these exact ways of coping might be prolonging your anxiety, not helping it!
Therapy helps you see this, then helps you find other ways of managing your anxieties that are more adaptive and healthy and lead to you feeling better about yourself and your life.
6. You learn techniques to bring instant relief when anxiety hits.
Therapists are trained at teaching a range of techniques that combat anxiety, which can include things like:
Cognitive behavioural therapy, the most common sort of therapy offered for anxiety, can also teach you ways to challenge your thoughts and test your behaviour.
[Not sure your anxiety is at the level you need help? Read our piece “Dealing With Anxiety – When Is It Time to Seek Help?.]
But where’s the proof that therapy will help my anxiety?
There is a huge field of research around the effects of therapy on anxiety, with several dedicated charities working to further knowledge and evidence, such as Anxiety Research UK.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in particular has been researched for its effects on anxiety and various anxiety disorders. One large scale overview of research on the affects of CBT on anxiety and anxiety orders looked at studies covering almost 1500 subjects and found CBT therapy consistently created an improvement for anxiety sufferers compared to placebo conditions.
Another form of therapy currently being researched for its affect on anxiety sufferers and showing positive results is mindfulness-based therapy. For example, a study at the University of Oxford found that out of 273 subjects there was a reported 58% reduction in anxiety levels.
What if I don’t seek help for my anxiety?
The decision is up for you.
It’s important, though, to not brush off your anxiety as no big deal. Yes, we all get anxious when life is challenging. But ongoing feelings of dread and panic that take over your life are serious.
Left untreated, persistent anxiety is a leading cause of serious depression, as well as a contributor to addictions like alcoholism and drug use.
If you are avoiding people, places or situations that make you anxious, or if anxiety is affecting your relationships and career, is it really worth ignoring it when help is readily available?
Do you have an experience of therapy for anxiety you’d like to share? Or a question you want answered? Use the comment box below.