What is anxiety and how do I deal with it?
Video: The Science of Anxiety
Anxiety is a difficult experience that can be managed effectively
We treat Romantic Anxiety – Social Anxiety – Performance Anxiety – General Anxiety – Medical Anxiety – Existential Anxiety – etc.
- I just moved to Austin and I love it here, so why am I so anxious about being here?
- Why am I so nervous about failure and rejection?
- I am scared about dating. Will they think I’m weird? What if I propose and they say ‘No’?
- Why do I think so much?! I feel like I cannot make decisions; I don’t even know where to start.
- Am I going to be able to pay my bills? What if I get fired?
- Why don’t people like me?
- I just can’t go to the party, I’m worried I’ll look weird or embarrass myself.
- Do I have cancer? Is that rash normal? Am I dying?
Questions like these can plague the mind of somebody suffering from anxiety. And each question seems to lead to a variety of other questions; it can truly be maddening. Most of us have felt nervous, but anxiety can feel like an unbearable physical experience in addition to the nervousness (like having bats, not just butterflies, in your stomach).
In limited doses, anxiety is a health alert system that helps you pay attention to potential danger. An anxiety attack is your body’s fight or flight response acting as if your life is in danger.
Anxiety Symptoms: How do I know if I’m anxious?
As I mentioned above, anxiety is a survival mechanism that is trying to keep you safe; the problem is that for some people, the body responds to various situations as if there is a threat to their physical safety even when there’s not.
Situations like living in a big city like Austin for the first time can trigger anxiety. In that situation, the heightened alert is just trying to help you pay attention so you learn your way around. For others, leaving Austin can trigger anxiety since it means getting out of their comfort zone.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety: What your body feels and does
- Fast, pounding heart
- Rapid breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- A sense of impending doom (this often feels ‘physical’. . . like a stone in your gut, or as I mentioned above, bats in your stomach)
Physical symptoms of anxiety are designed to motivate a person to either fight or flee a real or perceived threat by providing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscles needed to fight or flee.
Cognitive Symptoms of Anxiety: What your mind thinks and does
- The above-mentioned sense of impending doom
- Excessive worry about what others may think of you
- Excessive concern about health and well-being
- A racing mind, often creating insomnia
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions (analysis paralysis)
- Depressive thoughts
- Aggressive thoughts/behaviors. Irritability
Anxiety is actually trying to keep you safe
In the same way that physical symptoms of anxiety are trying to help keep you safe, the cognitive symptoms of anxiety are also trying to help you notice and respond to real or perceived threats. When you can anticipate danger, your mind is better able to either prevent harm or effectively respond to the threat of harm. But sometimes, what our thoughts determine is a threat is simply a new situation or something we care about, like a job, a date or a performance. When you learn to leverage the thoughts rather than being paralyzed by them, you will find a sense of calmness in otherwise exciting situations!
Effective Anxiety Counseling in Austin
You are not alone, and there is hope! According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety impacts over 40 million people in the United States! While anxiety is highly treatable, only 37% actually seek help. Using mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, I will help you re-train your mind to counteract these kinds of questions, even learn to leverage them to your benefit. I will also help you learn physical techniques that turn down that anxious fight-or-flight mechanism and turn up the rest-and-digest mechanism (breathing techniques, for example).
Mindfulness-based counseling helps you get to the root of the issue and learn how to structure thoughts and behavioral responses that are more effective. Once you identify the roots of the anxiety and the related thoughts and behaviors that feed it, you are able to compensate for them by engaging new strategies that unravel the thought knots that lead to anxiety. Medication is usually not required to manage anxiety, but when it is, using it in combination with talk therapy produces incredible results. It’s always ok to talk to a doctor.
Anxiety management is based on a strong relationship between a person’s strengths and their ability to use them to deal with all facets of anxiety. These different parts of anxiety can be biochemical, learned, situational, etc.
My style is conversational and very interactive. While I work hard to help you find solutions, I make plenty of room to hear about the problem . . . after all, sometimes we just need to vent, and we definitely need to feel that our suffering is understood correctly. I offer warmth and compassion along with a direct and honest style; I will not lead you on a wild goose chase or simply smile and nod. Whether you are in Austin, or a bit further away we will make that your time in counseling is beneficial. Remember that telephone counseling is an option in most situations.
You are able to solve issues like anxiety. Being client-directed means that I do not see it as my place to tell you what to do when to do it, and why you should do it my way. Instead, we will collaborate and develop a plan together. I’ll be directive and even give overt advice when needed, but it is important to understand that I expect you to actively participate in your session by exploring ideas and sharing your thoughts and feelings about our process.
What to expect as you work through anxiety
Our time will be spent as a conversation, not a clinical interview. You get to just be yourself, not worrying about asking the right questions or revealing all the right details. My job is to listen well and ask good questions. It’s really very casual. Of course, Buddy the Therapy Dog is right there snoozing or offering some comfort when you need it.
You’ll learn how to recognize thoughts and behaviors that indicate that anxiety may be starting, and how to counteract them. You’ll also be able to identify situations that tend to be anxiety-provoking so that you can prevent it from happening, or manage it at a mild level. We will build techniques that are natural to you and your personality. For example, let’s say you experience anxiety before going into a meeting with your boss. Using the skills we identify, you’ll know this could be an issue ahead of time and will be able to use breathing skills to calm the brain waves and biochemistry of anxiety, then engage thoughts that help you see more realistic expectations of the meeting, including knowing how to really impress your boss with your creativity and professional approach. We will even talk about how to have a conversation with your boss, and even role play examples if you find that helpful. Even difficult meetings can be managed in ways that knock your boss’s socks off! The same is true with spouses, friends, colleagues, etc.
I’ve helped people with all sorts of anxiety live happier lives
I’ve successfully worked with everybody from Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 executives to performing musicians and actors. I’ve helped husbands and wives learn how to hear each other through the nerves and conflict. I’m always impressed with what people accomplish when they are ready to dig in and lean into their work.
What’s the difference between nervousness and anxiety?
Very often, these 2 words are treated as synonyms, but there are differences that are helpful to consider. First, nervousness tends to be more cognitive, or thought-driven, whereas anxiety has a stronger physical component added to the cognitive experience. Nervousness tends to go away once the triggering situation is resolved or concluded, whereas anxiety tends to persist for a while. Nervousness often seems to ‘make sense.’ For example, most people would find it perfectly normal to be ‘nervous’ before speaking to a group of 500 people. Anxiety, on the other hand, is more irrational. It seems to pop up for no obvious reason. A person may know that they are an expert on a project, but they feel anxious (with all of its physical symptoms) when talking about it.
Nervousness does not disrupt a person’s life, whereas anxiety can. There is help for managing both by learning breathing and thought techniques.
I’ve heard that anxiety is trying to help me. How is that?
We need an alert system that tells us when there is danger close by. Anxiety is that system; it tells us when there is a threat, then triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight or flee response by sending oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The protective response also involves making our senses more finely tuned so we can assess the situation more accurately. What people experience as problematic is when this alert system comes online when there isn’t an actual threat to safety.
Are there different types of anxiety?
Yes, though they may feel quite similar. Social anxiety, performance anxiety, romantic anxiety, test anxiety as well as assorted phobias are a few examples. There can be a genetic component to anxiety and worry, and some people just live in a higher alert state than others. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is extremely effective in managing most types of anxiety. Meditation, exercise, and massage are also very helpful.
Is there a pill I can take to help?
Talking to your doctor to see if you might benefit from medications is an option, however, counseling and therapy are more effective than medication alone. Some anti-anxiety medications are extremely addictive and can be difficult to stop taking.
National Institute of Mental Health – An overview of anxiety types, symptoms and treatment
Psychology Today – Information on Anxiety from a leading source of psychological treatment providers
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine Live Chat – 1-800-273-8255 is the 24/7 hotline
(512) 472-HELP – 24/7 Texas Crisis Line
Read about how to manage anxiety: Anxiety Articles
Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.