Anxiety is a universal human experience, but sometimes it can develop into a problem that is very hard to cope with and which makes it difficult to do everyday activities. It can present as feelings of fear in the present moment or it may present as apprehension about future threats. Anxiety can interfere with our ability to live life to it's fullest and it can interfere with being the type of person we most want to be. While anxiety comes in many forms, clients often find themselves struggling with core aspects of the human experience.
One of the most common sources of anxiety is the experience of being with others. Many people fear that they are not coming across as confident enough, or smart enough, or interesting enough. People worry that friends or strangers are judging them as inadequate in some way. Others worry that their feelings of anxiety will become overwhelming and lead to a social catastrophe.
Good therapy for social anxiety can help clients enjoy being with other people again, become confident they can cope well with challenging social situations, and realise that they are someone who is appealing to others and deserving of people's time.
Many people experience sudden 'attacks' of intense fear. These episodes may come out of the blue, or they may happen when confronted by particular situations. Panic attacks come with strong sensations, such as a racing or thumping heart beat, being unable to breathe normally, shaking, sweating, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, or being unable to think straight, talk fluently, or even stand up. Panic attacks are frightening experiences and people often worry they might lose their mind or even die if the panic sensations can't be stopped. People often go to great lengths to avoid things that trigger panic attacks, which can result in people missing out on activities that matter to them.
A reduction in panic attacks can be achieved with learning new ways to cope with triggering situations, anxious thoughts, and unwanted physical sensations. Understanding the psychological and physical aspects of panic is a key component of this process. Learning to tell the difference between sensations that are uncomfortable but harmless, from those that might be a source of concern is important. Many people benefit from developing tools to help them sit with early unwanted sensations, which can avert the development of 'full-blown' panic.
The human mind is can sometimes get stuck in a certain type of pattern that produces repetitive very unpleasant thoughts. These thoughts continue despite the best efforts to make them go away. People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) usually find themselves troubled by thoughts with violent, sexual, or sacrilegious themes. They may feel that the thoughts are significant and mean that they are a terrible person and that they might act on the thoughts even though they don't want to. Some people feel that having unacceptable thoughts is immoral even if they never act on them. For people with OCD, due to the strange way the mind works, the harder they fight these thoughts, the more frequent and the more intense they become.
Many people with such unpleasant intrusive thoughts put a lot of time and effort into trying to dismish them. The often involves repetitive acts, such as checking and rechecking that precautions have been done correctly, cleaning, tidying, or ordering things excessively, or even asking other people to reassurance them that things are safe. People may also avoid places or activities that trigger the intrusive thoughts, interfering with their participation in important activities. While these routines and restricted activities may reduce the presence of distressing thoughts in the short term, they typically reinforce the long-term presence of the thoughts, as well as the belief that thoughts are dangerous and significant even if they are never acted on.
Fortunately, OCD can be effectively treated. Psychological treatment aims to untangle the vicious cycles of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that maintain the problem. Effective strategies can undermine the significance of intrusive thoughts, improve the management of anxiety and other emotions, and establish more flexible and expansive behaviours. When people recover, thay are able to step out of the patterns that are trapping them into a life dominated by OCD, and rebuild a free-er and richer life.