I recently asked a middle schooler what the word “anxiety” meant to her. I’m sharing this with her permission and that of her mother’s. Her response was:
Being in crowds of people, sharing things with the class, sometimes just going to school, doing anything that’s awkward in front of people who I know or may see again. Anxiety feels like being nervous, scared, sometimes frozen in place, or like, “I’ve got to get out of here!” I’ve learned that taking small steps toward doing things that scare me has helped me get braver. I think that doing stuff is more helpful than just talking about anxiety. And I still have anxiety, but it’s not totally in charge anymore.
Anxiety can be annoying to downright debilitating. Some people just have that dreadful feeling in the pit of their stomach but manage to muscle through the day. Others find that anxiety prevents them from engaging in their lives because so many things frighten them. Kids often convince themselves and their parents that they simply don’t like doing certain things when anxiety is really the culprit.
You already know the bad news about anxiety; it’s extremely uncomfortable! The good news, which you may not be as familiar with, is that there is legitimate help for it that actually works! It takes a little effort, but when done well, it’s one of the most empowering therapeutic approaches I’ve ever used.
In fact, I used it on myself years ago with great success. Our team of licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa would like to share this information with you to help ease your doubts that nothing can be done to treat anxiety.
A Personal Example
Back in the early 1990’s, I was a psychology graduate student living in New York City with a severe dental phobia. Well, it became apparent that avoiding the dentist my whole life was not going to lead to good things!
Luckily, I had a behavior therapy course that talked about systematic desensitization (gradually getting used to something) and exposure therapy (gradually exposing a person to the things they fear at a pace they can handle). I made an arrangement with my dentist (thank you, Dr. Osipow) to be allowed to go to the office and just sit in the exam chair.
Then we added a short exam of just poking around in my mouth. Eventually, I was able to have full cleanings and x-rays. I’m proud to report that I have successfully had a few fillings replaced in the past few years, without Xanax or gas!
With our patients, we teach them about anxiety and how it works. We explain that the more we allow anxiety to be in charge, the more it will run our lives. Anxiety often makes us think that bad things are very likely to happen (even when the chances are slim) and that we can’t handle uncomfortable feelings, even for a little bit. The problem is that anxiety tends to lie to us and makes us think that things are way worse than they really are.
Once our patients understand anxiety’s tricks, we help them to identify what they’re worried or fearful about, rank them in order of least to most distressing, and then help them face the ones that cause them the least amount of potential upset. Sometimes we even figure out how to make things even easier than what they believed possible.
For example, if a person is afraid of heights, we might start with something as simple as a drawing of a tall building. We might then progress to a photograph and then a video. Once those become easy for the patient, we might progress to having them climb a short ladder or walk up a flight of stairs and look down.
The idea is to gradually build confidence and exposure to their feared situation so that the anxiety no longer prevents them from enjoying life. And, believe it or not, we can use similar strategies with various types of worries and repetitive and/or disturbing thoughts.
Other Treatments That Can Help
Exposure therapy isn’t the only approach to treating anxiety. At Rice Psychology Group, we use a range of different strategies like cognitive-behavior therapy, mindfulness, and even exercise. Additionally, our anxiety-oriented work often takes us out of the office to do exposures in the community, stores, homes, and even airplanes. If you’re feeling something similar or have a worry (or many worries) that you just can’t rid from your mind, know that you aren’t alone and that we want to help you.
Set Up an Appointment with Us
Our team of licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa are familiar with and have mastered different types of behavioral therapies for various disorders and mental health ailments. If you or a loved one has been dealing with a great deal of anxiety and are tired of suffering, please contact us today to set up your appointment.