One of our most experienced psychologists, Paul Carver, explains the various ways that anxiety disorders can manifest, and how they can be treated …
- Have you ever felt constantly high levels of anxiety, dread or apprehension that something bad might happen, and the feeling just doesn’t go away? That feeling is called Generalised Anxiety.
- Have you ever felt intense anxiety when meeting people and trying to form friendships? This disabling condition is known as Social Anxiety.
- Have you ever been in a situation and had a panic attack suddenly come on you, from out of the blue? This is of course, Panic Disorder.
- Have you ever completely freaked out at something like spiders, germs or needles? That disabling fear is known as a Phobia.
- Or have you become extremely anxious while in some public place, such as a shopping mall, movie theatre or bus? And wanted to get out of the place? This is known as Agoraphobia.
The difficulties I have just described are all characterised by high levels of anxiety, and are therefore known as Anxiety Disorders.
What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety is the emotion that warns us about threats. Throughout most of human evolution, most threats were due to wild animals or hostile tribes. In response our system would gear us up to fight them or flee.
However most threats in contemporary society don’t concern our physical safety, but are psychological in nature. In the face of these threats, our system still gears up in the same way, and our bodies can mobilise extremely quickly.
What we feel as well as the emotion of anxiety, are the sensations caused by physiological arousal, such as a thumping heartbeat. These sensations can be quite frightening if we don’t realise that is what is happening.
As far as high levels of daily anxiety go, these feelings may be caused by psychologically distressing situations we have not yet resolved.
However chronic anxiety is usually caused by distorted cognitions or thought habits that do not reflect accurately what is really going on, but amp up the perception of threat, for example catastrophising, or overestimating the probability that the worst could happen.
Some people are worriers. People who worry think that worrying amounts to solving the problem. However studies show worriers use problem solving less.
In social situations our discomfort is usually caused by negative self-appraisals which occur in interpersonal situations.
Phobias are caused by a bad experience in the past which can still be activated by a present-day trigger.
Treatment for Anxiety Attacks
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is very effective in transforming worrying and anxious thought habits into a more realistic assessment of threats, rather than a distorted threatening view of life. It is very effective in reducing anxiety and worry.
A therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) works well with phobias, as it reprocesses bad memories, effectively desensitising them, so that they no longer bother us.
Anxiety problems are unlikely to go away by themselves, but the good news is that therapy is extremely effective with anxiety disorders of all types.
Author: Paul Carver, Bsc, Msc, PG Dip Health Psych.
Paul Carver is a Brisbane psychologist with a very wide range of experience, and is focused on bringing the very best evidence-based treatments to his clients – including how to overcome anxiety disorders without medication.
To arrange an appointment with Paul Carver, freecall 1800 877 924 or you can book online.