Overcoming Anxiety Disorders
Do you suffer from panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, unrelenting worries, or an incapacitating phobia? if so you may have an anxiety disorder, but you don’t have to live with anxiety and fear. Treatment can help, and for many anxiety problems, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good place to start.
What are anxiety disorders?
It is normal to feel anxious from time to time, but a person with an anxiety disorder has problems controlling their worries to such an extent that they interfere with everyday life. Anxiety disorders affect around 1 in 20 people in the UK.
There are several recognised types of anxiety disorders, including:
Panic disorder: People with this condition have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and repeatedly with no warning. Other symptoms of a panic attack include sweating, chest pain, palpitations (irregular heartbeats), and a feeling of choking, which may make the person feel like he or she is having a heart attack.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes his or her hands.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.
Social anxiety disorder: Also called social phobia, this involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centres on a fear of being judged by others, or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
Specific phobias: A specific phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as snakes, heights, or flying. The level of fear usually is inappropriate to the situation and may cause the person to avoid common, everyday situations.
Generalised anxiety disorder: This disorder involves excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. CBT addresses negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. As the name suggests, this involves two main components:
Cognitive therapy: this examines how negative thoughts, or cognitions, contribute to anxiety.
Behavior therapy: examines how you behave and react in situations that trigger anxiety.
The basic premise of CBT is that our thoughts, not external events, affect the way we feel. In other words, it’s not the situation you’re in that determines how you feel, but your perception of the situation.
For people with anxiety disorders, negative ways of thinking fuel the negative emotions of anxiety and fear. The goal of CBT for anxiety is to identify and correct these negative thoughts and beliefs. The idea is that if you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.
Thought challenging, also known as cognitive restructuring is a process in which you challenge the negative thinking patterns that contribute to your anxiety, replacing them with more positive, realistic thoughts. Replacing negative thoughts with more realistic ones is easier said than done. Often, negative thoughts are part of a lifelong pattern of thinking and it takes practice to break the habit.
Another important component of CBT involves learning relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, controlled breathing, and visualization which when practiced regularly can reduce anxiety and increase feelings of relaxation and emotional well-being.
Dr Sharna Lewis Chartered Clinical Psychologist
Sharna first graduated from Aston University in 1996 with an Honours Degree in Psychology and went on to complete a Masters Degree in Health Psychology at Coventry University. She then undertook a 3 year Doctorate to train as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Birmingham. Sharna has worked within the NHS for over 12 years and independently in private practice since 2009. She has extensive clinical experience within the areas of learning disabilities, child and adult mental health and neuropsychological assessment. Sharna is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, a member of the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy and a registered member of the Health Care Professionals Council.