How beneficial is anxiety therapy?

A certain amount of anxiety now and then is a part of life. At any given time, we can encounter stressors such as health, money, or family issues, even activities such as crossing a busy street or climbing a ladder to change a lightbulb at home. Anxiety is a normal reaction to such situations – it helps to keep us safe.

Anxiety vs anxiety disorder

It’s important to know the distinction between anxiety and anxiety disorders in order to determine what kind of professional help is most likely to be effective in providing relief. “Regular” anxiety is generally a temporary fear or worry that is proportional to the problem and is associated more with muscle tension and avoidance behavior. Sometimes, a person may feel overwhelmed and seek help in these situations, but the anxiety dissipates once the situation is resolved.

For some people, however, this anxiety doesn’t go away and actually gets worse over time. Their anxiety is intense, long-lasting, and can lead to physical symptoms – even phobias or severe fear – that interfere with daily life, personal relationships, schoolwork, and job performance. They will avoid situations that can trigger or worsen their symptoms. Unfortunately, sometimes this avoidance behavior itself can worsen their symptoms. This disruption and functional interference with daily life is when we move into the territory of anxiety disorder.

The good news is, anxiety and anxiety disorders can be helped with therapy. Most patients experience a reduction in or even elimination of symptoms after several months of psychotherapy. Many patients notice some improvement after just a few sessions.

What to look for, what to ask

When seeking therapy for anxiety, there are a few things you should consider. First, ask potential therapists about their experience and expertise in treating anxiety. While most therapists are capable of addressing anxiety, it usually will not be a significant portion of their caseload unless they specialize in anxiety disorders. Inquire about the percentage of their caseload dedicated to anxiety cases and their success rates in treating anxiety.

Therapy for anxiety usually involves some form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with an Exposure Therapy component (a specific type of CBT). While medication can play a role in treating some cases of anxiety disorder, research has shown that behavioral treatment is highly effective on its own or in combination with medication.

Time to roll up your sleeves

Once you have selected a therapist, it’s essential to understand that change doesn’t happen solely during your therapy sessions. Therapy is where you learn and practice the skills to understand and manage your anxiety. However, it is the “homework” of taking what you’ve learned in therapy and applying it in your daily life that leads to real change. Trusting your therapist and the process is crucial. Following through on that homework can be uncomfortable. But, it is through exposure and the repetitive application of what you’ve learned that you will move from a place of uncertainty to knowing you can face stressful situations and feel confident in your ability to navigate them successfully.

Remember, therapy is a collaborative journey. Your therapist is there to guide and support you, but you are the one doing the work. Be patient with yourself and the process. It takes time to develop new coping mechanisms and to reframe negative thoughts and beliefs. Celebrate small victories along the way, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or suspect you may have an anxiety disorder, therapy can provide the tools and support you need to regain control of your life. Take that first step toward a healthier, more balanced future by seeking professional help. You deserve to live a life free from the chains of anxiety, and therapy can help you achieve just that.

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