Anxiety: Out With the Old and In With the Newish
If you have ever been treated for anxiety before you know that there will be lots of breathing and attempts at relaxing. Your therapist probably gave you lots of tools to help push down your feelings of anxiety and fear. But, have you ever found yourself wondering if this is enough to really treat your anxiety? Did you find that the methods worked while you were doing them, but the symptoms came right back as soon as you tried to do something else?
Many treatment plans for anxiety include these long time therapeutic staples. Ways to help you push aside anxiety when it starts to arise. The thing is, there might be another approach that can offer you a more effective and longer-term solution.
Traditional Anxiety Treatment
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 31 percent of people will struggle with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. This makes anxiety disorders among the most common of all mental disorders.
Anxiety can be an extremely debilitating disorder, especially since avoidance is one of the hallmarks of anxiety disorders. People with anxiety have a tendency to avoid things that they view as potentially anxiety-inducing. Consequently, their worlds can become smaller and smaller over time.
This can cause problems in people’s ability to function at work, school, home, and even in their relationships.
Traditionally, anxiety disorders have been treated with relaxation training skills, imagery, and similar stress-management techniques. These are the treatment protocols most clinicians are taught in graduate school. Which means it is what is widely used by many mental health providers worldwide. Those therapists teach their clients how to use proper breathing techniques, use visual imagery, and relax their muscles on demand.
These techniques are commonly used because there is a belief that people at risk for anxiety disorders have an overactive nervous system. The theory is that by helping people learn to relax, therapists can help mitigate the feelings of anxiety. This is why most clinicians will train you on how to do deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) as the first line of defense against anxiety.
Progressive muscle relaxation is often also used to help people learn to relax their mind and body. Lastly, guided imagery has shown to be effective in helping people have a place in their minds where they can escape.
The problem is, if you think about it, what do these techniques sound a lot like? That’s right, avoidance!
This has been a major critique of these methods by many experts in the field of anxiety disorders. Learning how to relax may not be enough to help people live with their anxiety in a way that isn’t distressing or limiting.
Let’s face it, when you are in the weeds dealing with fear and anxiety. Chances are you are going to need more than deep breathing to ‘make it all go away’. So then what’s the alternative?
A Newish Approach to Treating Anxiety
Over time, treatment has reverted back to good old exposure-based behavioral methods. While the approach is not novel, per say, it has been repackaged with a sprinkle of acceptance therapy. Consequently, the impact has truly been found to create change in the lives of people with anxiety.
In other words, by facing what you fear and accepting that anxiety is a normal part of living, you can start to heal from the fear. While outdated treatments encouraged avoidance, these new modalities encourage people to face and accept the things that make them anxious. This has been found to be a powerful tool in no longer letting anxiety run lives.
In reality, these tools have been used in clinical practices for many years, but it is unclear as to why the shift towards a relaxation model became a standard of care in many practices. Relaxation techniques are an important part of achieving short term success but become problematic when it is the complete focus of treatment. There is more you can do to achieve higher rates of success in living a happy life even with anxiety.
Types of Exposure-Based Therapy to Treat Anxiety
Exposure-based treatments are grounded in the fact that anxiety is a normal emotion. Being fearful is our brain’s way of protecting us from threats in our environment. It is dependent upon our own interpretations of those threats and is only a problem when our protective emotions start ruling our lives.
Using more exposure-based therapeutic methods help you accept the anxiety you experience instead of trying to make it just go away. What research shows is that this method lessens anxiety much more effectively.
Types of Exposure-Based Treatments
There are many types of exposure-based treatments available and which one will work best for you depends upon your diagnosis, type of anxiety disorder, and severity of symptoms. Some of the most commonly used include:
In-Vivo Exposure Therapy
In Vivo Exposure Therapy is a subtype of Cognitive Behavior Therapy that is used to minimize the fear and anxiety associated with a specific trigger in a person’s life. There are two different kinds of Exposure Therapy, including:
- Flooding: In this type of Exposure Therapy you are directly exposed to a feared situation or experience in a controlled environment.
- Systematic Desensitization, or Progressive Exposure, involves gradual exposure to a feared stimulus.
Imaginal Exposures are a type of therapy where you are asked to imagine scary thoughts, situations or things that trigger anxiety. By repeatedly facing fears and anxiety in a safe environment, you can retrain how your brain and body respond to those stressors.
The idea behind imaginal exposure is that, by repeatedly facing a fear, you can become less afraid when you experience anxiety-provoking situations in your everyday life. This process of habituation is a clinical word that means becoming less afraid of something by repeatedly being exposed to it.
Interoceptive Exposure Therapy
Interoceptive Exposure Therapy is a treatment that actually involves inducing bodily sensations similar to what you might experience during a panic attack or extreme stress reaction. So here it’s not about making it go away, but actually inducing it! What?!? What’s interesting about this treatment for anxiety is that it is just about the complete opposite of old avoidance methods. During this treatment, the therapist will ask the client to engage in exercises that will elicit the same feelings of a panic attack.
For example, they might say to increase your rate of breathing to induce hyperventilation, then put your head between your legs and then sit up quickly to produce a head rush. They might even have you spin in a chair to induce dizziness. While this might sound like a less than ideal experience, what it does is help you reduce your fear to the anxiety sensations through, you guessed it, habituation! It is often the fear of fear that keeps people stuck. By facing your fears in a safe environment, you can better cope with these physical sensations in your everyday life.
Looking for the Best in Anxiety Disorder Care?
If you are tired of old treatments that don’t really help you deal with anxiety, it might be time to try something newish. We have used the latest research findings to offer clients the best possible treatment for their anxiety and fear. We specialize in anxiety disorders and know that for many people it will take more than deep breathing and an imagination to live a life with less anxiety. Please call us for a free 15-minute consultation (719) 623-2356.