I’m glad I get to go home now…even though I was supposed to stay for more than half an hour. If my friend had told me this “small get-together” was actually a party, I never would have tagged along with her. I appreciate the invitation and all, but why would she bring me to a place where everyone is judging me and waiting for a chance to ridicule me? It got so bad that I could feel myself shaking and couldn’t even catch my breath. I know they were just pretending to be nice to me, but I could see in their eyes that they would criticize me as soon as I walked out the door.
This past weekend, I spent three days intensively training on how to effectively treat all types of anxiety disorders. I’ve been working with kids and adults with anxiety for years now with great success but have long wanted to take my game to the next level, so to speak. I’d heard of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy and, more specifically, something called “exposure and response prevention”, and after extensive research, knew it was the way to go but I wasn’t sure I had the courage to design exposures intense enough to seriously knock anxiety on its rear. But now that I have trained with the best of the best, I say bring it on!
Okay, so what exactly am I talking about? Here’s the bottom line: Anxiety is essentially a brain glitch or hiccup that makes us feel worried or scared on a level that is way out of proportion to the real risk. Originally, anxiety was useful because it helped keep our ancestors safe in the face of sabretooth tigers and dinosaurs (not to mention the evil caveman next door) by keeping their senses heightened to alert them of danger. What has happened in our industrialized society is that anxiety has run amok and many of us have developed fears of things that are not really dangerous, and it is definitely interfering with our lives.
Important Things to Know about Anxiety:
- Anxiety, phobias and their unfriendly cousin, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), are pathological liars. They blow things out of proportion, make things up and tell us that bad things are extremely likely to happen even when there is no logical evidence to support that. What’s worse, they are incredibly convincing.
- When we deliberately avoid the things that anxiety freaks us out about or do things (compulsions) in response to the anxiety, we are actually doing exactly the opposite of what the doctors have ordered. It is as if we are giving candy to the tantrumming child in the grocery store. We are inadvertently reinforcing the anxiety and increasing the chances that it will keep showing up.
- Even though in the moment it can feel like it, people don’t actually die from panic attacks or anxiety. This is important to keep in mind when your heart is beating out of your chest and you feel like you might pass out from fear.
An Effective Tool
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is the most effective treatment for anxiety and OCD – to the tune of a 70-80% success rate if conducted properly by a well-trained therapist. In fact, for most people who don’t have other types of co-occurring problems (such as ADHD or depression), it is as effective as or even more so than medication. And the benefits last because you learn effective tools and strategies for combating anxiety that can be used for the rest of your life. The great news is that research suggests a major reduction in symptoms can occur after just 10-14 sessions of therapy, a relatively speedy process when compared with other strategies. This means a faster improvement in QUALITY OF LIFE!
The key components of good Cognitive-Behavior Therapy anxiety treatment, and what I practice with my patients, include:
- Education about anxiety. The more you know, the more capable and confident you can be in facing and fighting your fears.
- Learning to rate your fears in terms of how scary they are to you, such as when a medical doctor asks you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10. Doing this gives both you and your therapist a sense of which fears are the worst and which are more manageable so the two of you can figure out the best ways to begin facing them.
- Taking this scale to create a hierarchy of fears so that you can face them without falling back on your old habits of avoidance or ritualistic coping mechanisms. By starting with small fears and working to overcome them using healthy Cognitive-Behavior Therapy habits before moving on to the big ones, you will start to see your anxiety calming down on its own. Sounds miraculous, right? Maybe even a bit scary? Doing this with a great coach (therapist) and seeing how awesome you feel as you begin to face your gremlins is life-changing for kids and adults alike.
- Actually exposing yourself to your fears. The idea is to test out the fear to see if it is based in reality (if it is an anxious fear, it usually isn’t). Oftentimes, our anxiety sets off false alarms. It is fine to start with the ones that cause only a little discomfort or are only slightly anxiety-provoking. Every little success bolsters the person and will help encourage them to face bigger and bigger challenges. I have found that you can even have fun doing these exercises and facing fears!
Rice Psychology Group is Here to Help
The key takeaway is that you don’t have to suffer alone or unnecessarily. Help is available in the form of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. It is not a Band-Aid; it gets to the root of the problem. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for anxiety and OCD is a forward thinking, solution-focused way of dealing with anxious thoughts, and the goal is to teach you how to live with it and not as a prisoner to it! Contact our team of psychologists at Rice Psychology Group in Tampa for more information about how we can help.