Counseling for anxiety relief
Ready for anxiety relief?
Let’s first say “thank you” to anxiety
While the sensation of anxiety is highly unpleasant at times, thank goodness we have this ability as a hard wired survival reaction. It has not only kept you safe in many circumstances, it is what enabled our ancestors to survive and pass on their genes, equipping all the generations to come with this highly useful tool.
Anxiety is helpful when there is a true threat to your safety. It triggers the “fight or flight” reaction, which releases a cascade of chemicals, redirects blood flow, and many other brain and body pathways your brain thinks you need in that moment.
Our stress response to anxiety is well designed, but meant to be short lived. You escape the bear, and when you feel safe again, your body can begin the physiological process of rest and repair. This then enables you to generate a productive stress response when you experience the next threat.
But what happens when there is no real threat? When there’s no tiger chasing us or no burning building from which we need to escape? Or what about when a threat has passed, but the worry persists? Why do we feel anxiety in circumstances where we are actually safe? Or why is it possible to feel anxious when you can’t identify a reason or a cause?
Another part of our brain is responsible for determining threats to our safety. If you’re reading this from your smartphone or other electronic device, I would wager that your safety threats are less likely to come in the form of a wild animal and more likely to be disguised in other concerns. For many people, the threats to our safety are harder to identify or predict than when our ancestors were simply focused on eluding predators. This state of continued hypervigilance doesn’t allow for the rest and repair your brain and body need. When you don’t know when or where the next threat is coming from, you are living in a constant state of anxiety.
While our physical safety is essential for survival, so is our interpersonal and emotional safety. If we fear rejection, or struggle with self-doubt, this can create anxiety that we will be isolated and lonely. And it’s important to acknowledge that as social animals, our sense of belonging is as important to survival as our physical safety.
Need to know how to relax?
Many individuals who are in this constant state of hyper-alertness and hyperarousal have trouble relaxing. You may turn to substances like alcohol or marijuana to enable your brain to slow down. Or you try to numb out with food, binge watch Netflix, or find other ways to disconnect with your thoughts and emotions. Even then you still might feel restless or like you never achieve a true rest. Even sleep might not always provide an adequate restoration depending on your state of anxiety. But even the relief potentially experienced in one of those states is short lived, because as soon as the distraction or chemical alteration ends, the treadmill of hypervigilance and unease begin again.
“Boiling frog syndrome”
There is a fable that says: if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will know the conditions are a threat and will try to escape. However, if you put a frog in normal temperature water and slowly raise the temperature, it will not register the threat and will not try to escape.
While this tale might not be true in real life, the metaphor of it is appropriate for many people experiencing anxiety. You might be like many people who can’t point to a specific event or time when it started. Maybe it feels like it’s always been this way. Maybe you can look back into childhood or adolescence and identify experiences you didn’t understand to be anxiety at that time, but now you understand it with that label.
Many people acclimate to their anxiety. They function (and often very well) with their anxiety, participating in their lives and having great success. This distress tolerance for anxiety prevents people from sometimes realizing there is a possibility of it being different.
Therapy can help minimize the intensity and frequency of anxiety.
Counseling can also give you a plan for what to do differently when the anxiety does arise, a plan that helps you get closer to the experiences you want.
What does therapy do?
Counseling is a collaborative process, where we work together to identify specific concerns and develop concrete skills and techniques for reducing and coping with anxiety. You can expect to practice your new skills outside of sessions and report back on your successes or challenges, so that we can continue to identify solutions and address obstacles. In this regard, I say counseling is a lot like the piano lessons I took as a kid: one hour of lessons once a week wasn’t going to make me a talented musician without my practice in-between the lessons! (Feel free to ask my in our first session about my progress with piano!)
By listening to your stories and experiences, I come to see the world through your lenses. Your storytelling is like handing me the pair of glasses you wear as you walk through the day. I get to understand how you see and experience things. And in doing so, I can suggest techniques, approaches and ideas that build on your strengths and needs, but offer something new to begin to change in the ways you desire.
Counseling is not a pre-scripted, one size fits all. Maybe you’ve already ready some books on anxiety. Hopefully you’ve found some useful tools that have made a difference for you. But maybe they’ve been hard to sustain or maybe you’ve gotten frustrated trying so hard. Here is a window into some of the theoretical methodologies from which you can expect ideas that we discuss together:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, invites us to examine on how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are connected. Utilizing the techniques and skills in CBT identifies opportunities to create change, that have a transformative ripple effect. When we identify and implement effective ways of thinking and acting, your feelings and emotions begin to follow.
Positive psychology: positive psychology focuses on people’s strengths and what is working well, and can be further strengthened, in order to promote wellness. Utilizing researched and proven habits and strategies that facilitate positive mood states, sometimes the answer in overcoming anxiety is not simply addressing the anxiety, but strengthening other emotions and mindsets so that they begin to be more dominant than the anxious ways of thinking and relating.
Worries and anxious thinking are very treatable. Many people notice improvement after just a few sessions by identifying and implementing new habits of thinking. Keep in mind, counseling is just like any other health behavior: when you start getting regular physical exercise, you start improving your health. But it’s the continued practice that keeps you healthy. Counseling is about learning the tools and skills that you can do it on your own (not to remain in therapy for your life time!). It’s your continued practice of these skills outside of counseling that will continue your well-being.
i’m jaime malone, licensed professional counselor:
I will be your cheerleader and coach in creating calm, deepening connections and increasing you overall well-being.
Contact me at 732-977-0375 for your 15-minute insight phone call where we will look to:
get clear on the experiences you desire to have
identify the current obstacles interfering with having the happiness you deserve
complete the consultation with the excitement of knowing your next steps to move towards the wellbeing you need