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However at its worse, it can wreak havoc with our lives and paralyze us to the point of inaction.
If you suffer from anxiety, especially if you have an anxiety disorder, you know how disabling anxiety can be.
Fear and anxiety are, in a sense, meant to be our allies. When we experience a danger or a threat, the fight, freeze or flight response kicks in, adrenaline and other chemicals are activated and physical symptoms occur, like a rapid heart rate, palpitations and an increase in blood pressure.
All of these prepare us to either fight the one who's threatening us, play dead so we stay out of danger, or run away from the threat.
But, in today’s world, stressors and mild threats of a different type constantly confront us.
Our fight/flight/freeze response can be activated by meetings with the boss, running late or traffic jams. With technology's constant connectivity, smart phones and 24/7 dramatized news and entertainment, we don’t receive much of a break.
Because of this, our brains can have trouble differentiating between perceived and real threats.
We feel anxiety when we have a sense of dread or discomfort even when we aren't, at that moment, in danger. Anxiety can limit people's lives in surprising ways - many of which may not seem to be due to anxiety.
For example, while some people are plagued by worries that haunt every waking moment, others may find it difficult to fall asleep. Some may have a hard time leaving home, while for other individuals, a fear of public speaking may threaten their job.
Anxiety can have a devastating impact from panic attacks to difficulty socializing or leaving the house. As a result some people self medicate with alcohol or drugs or other destructive behaviors to try to calm their anxious brain.
Coping with anxiety can be scary and lonely. We understand that when you’re dealing with anxiety, even relatively minor decisions can be overwhelming. It can keep you up at night worrying and leave you fatigued as you try to make it through another difficult day.
Common anxiety symptoms:
When you have anxiety you can have any number of these symptoms:
... Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
... Excessive, unrealistic worry
... Restlessness or an inability to stay still or calm
... Sleep problems
... Shortness of breath
... Heart palpitations
... Avoidance of situations that provoke anxiety
... Dry mouth
... Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
... Muscle tension
... Cold or sweaty hands/feet
How is anxiety created in our brains? New brain research
There has been a recent revolution in knowledge about the brain structures that create anxiety. So much so, that now we know more about anxiety and what causes it than any other emotion that we as humans have.
The research has revealed something very important: that there are actually 2 different pathways in the brain that cause anxiety:
1. The first pathway is the cortex (or thinking) pathway and involves our thoughts and perceptions about situations
2. The second pathway is directly through the amygdala (or emotional) pathway which triggers the fight, freeze, or flight response we talked about earlier.
Both pathways play a vital role in anxiety, one more than the other depending on your type of anxiety.
When treating anxiety, the traditional approach of psychotherapy has been to focus on the cortex or thinking part. However a growing body of research suggests that the role of the amygdala must be understood in developing the complete picture.
Therapeutic approaches that target your cortex pathway are very common in psychotherapy and they typically focus on your thoughts (or cognitions, as we psychologists call them). Your thoughts may be the actual cause of your anxiety, or they may increase or decrease your anxiety. So being able to know what you are thinking and change your thoughts can really help in decreasing your anxiety.
The amygdala pathway has been the focus of some very helpful new research. Your amygdala is on the lookout for anything that might indicate potential harm. And as well as giving you your immediate fight, freeze and flight reaction to threat, also helps you form emotional memories and attach significance to situations, objects and people. Those emotional memories can be positive or negative. When it comes to anxiety, we focus on the experiences that create the negative anxiety-producing memories.
It is important to note that we are not usually aware that this is happening. However the amygdala's emotional processing has profound effects on our behaviour. The first you might know about it is the effects on your body - a pounding heart, perspiration, muscle tension, nervousness, wanting to avoid a situation, or having aggressive impulses.
It is at the heart of our anxiety response.
Although the cortex can initiate or worsen our anxiety, the amygdala is needed to trigger your anxiety.
And that is why hours of talk therapy or working your way through self help books may not help your anxiety. To target your amygdala, your need experience with the object or situation for new learning to occur. This is crucial to understand and is why we need to be addressing both in your therapy when it comes to helping you overcome your anxiety.
Types of Anxiety
Generalised anxiety: If your pattern of worrying is serious enough that it interferes with your daily life, you may be diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. (Click here for more information on Generalised Anxiety Disorder)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can occur when your cortex creates obsessive thoughts that won't go away to the point that you can spend hours each day focusing on them. These obsessive thoughts can often lead you to create elaborate rituals that you must carry out to reduce your anxiety. (Click here for more information on OCD)
Social anxiety is also very common and refers to the fear of embarrassment or humiliation in situations where you are exposed to the scrutiny of others or you must perform. (Read more on Social Anxiety)
Other less common forms of anxiety are Phobias (a strong fear and avoidance of a particular object, eg animals, elevators, airplanes, the doctor, thunder, or blood), Agorophobia (which is a fear of being in situations that you can't escape from), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (experiencing distressing nightmares, flashbacks and disturbing symptoms relating to a trauma you have had in the past).
Even though anxiety has the power to rob you of the capacity to complete many of the basic activities of life, it is possible for you to return to fully engaging life and begin to find confidence again.
By providing you with a safe and calming environment, we help you identify your anxious thoughts and put together a plan to help you overcome the anxiety that is crippling you.
Using various treatment modalities, our psychologists help you in changing your relationship with anxiety so that you are no longer controlled by it.
If you'd like help managing and taking back control of your anxiety, our psychologists across Australia specialise in this field. We have psychologists that can help with Anxiety Counselling in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Gold Coast, Canberra, Townsville, Sunshine Coast, Perth and Adelaide.