Going to therapy for anxiety
Everyone feels anxious from time to time. The body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered when you’re threatened, under pressure, or facing a challenging situation—such as an important exam or a first date. At moderate levels, anxiety can motivate you to achieve your goals, solve problems, and stay focused. But if feelings of worry and fear interfere with your daily life, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.
As the most common mental illness in the United States, anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults in the United States, according to the ADAA. The symptoms of anxiety disorders vary from person to person—while one person may struggle with unexpected panic attacks, another might experience persistent, intrusive thoughts and obsessions.
Deciding whether to seek professional help can be difficult, especially if you’re already feeling stressed and overwhelmed. And while identifying and managing anxiety disorders is integral to treating symptoms, professional help for those without a clear mental health condition can be just as important.
What is psychotherapy?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health treatment, and everyone has different mental health needs. Many mental health providers use psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to treat a wide range of mental health issues.
Contrary to popular belief, psychotherapy isn’t just for those struggling with severe mental illness. Talk therapy can be helpful for anyone experiencing stress, anxiety, or intense emotions. The main types of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety disorders include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps patients identify and challenge problematic thinking and behavioral patterns through cognitive restructuring, according to Psychology Today. After your first therapy session, your mental health provider will help you set goals and find new ways to cope with stress.
- Psychodynamic therapy: This type of therapy offers a more holistic approach than CBT. Instead of focusing on the behavioral component, psychodynamic specialists help patients find patterns in their cognitions and emotions.
- Exposure therapy: As a form of Behavior Therapy, exposure therapy helps patients reduce their level of anxiety and fear through exposure. In exposure therapy, a person is gradually exposed to a feared situation or object and learns to become less sensitive over time. This type of therapy is particularly effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias.
Should you see a therapist?
Reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a significant step toward recovery. Here are eight signs it’s time to seek professional help for your anxiety:
You’re constantly feeling overwhelmed.
When an unforeseen issue arises, do you automatically assume that the worst-case scenario will take place? Catastrophizing is an intense and debilitating form of anxiety, and it can make every worry feel out of proportion.
Over time, catastrophizing can be paralyzing, leading to panic attacks and avoidance. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you shift your thinking and behavior and gain insight into your mental health.
Your physical health is suffering.
When your mental health suffers, your physical health suffers, too. Research has shown that chronic stress and anxiety can manifest in a wide range of physical conditions. This includes nausea, headaches, and frequent colds. Unexplained muscle pain—especially neck pain—is also a sign of anxiety.
If you’re suffering from any of these health conditions, you could benefit from treatment from a trained anxiety therapist. It’s also important to ask your primary care physician for medical advice to rule out any underlying physical conditions.
You’re struggling to build or maintain relationships.
Anxiety can have a significant impact on relationships—it might cause you to pull back from the people close to you, or it might cause you to lean more heavily on friends and family members for emotional support.
If you find yourself in conflict with others or have trouble communicating, psychotherapy can help. A good therapist can help you learn improved social skills. Such skills might include respecting yourself assertively and using “I” language rather than “you” language. If you find yourself feeling unhappy or irritated during interactions with friends and family members on a regular basis, family therapy or couples therapy can help.
It feels impossible to control your emotions.
Everyone feels sad, anxious, or angry from time to time, but it’s important to pay attention to how often or how intensely you feel these emotions. When you’re anxious, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Staying in this state for a long period of time can make your emotions feel more intense and overwhelming. This makes it more difficult to cope with negative feelings.
Psychotherapy can help you learn to identify and regulate your emotions more effectively by providing a confidential space to explore your thoughts and feelings. With the right therapist, you can be vulnerable, explore deeper issues, and manage your anxiety.
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Your academic or work performance has taken a hit.
Poor performance at work or school is common among individuals struggling with mental health issues and emotional problems. In particular, anxiety disorders can make it harder to focus, leading to impaired attention, lower energy, and apathy. Anxiety and stress can lead to a lack of interest and errors at work or school. This can further impair your productivity.
Poor work performance can be risky for yourself or others, for example, if you’re a doctor, police officer, or caretaker. Seeking professional help is essential to regulate your behavior and effectively manage stress.
You turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
When struggling with mental or emotional problems, it can be tempting to turn to things that are rewarding, distracting, or destructive to cope—such as sex or substance abuse. While substance abuse can temporarily alleviate negative thoughts and problematic feelings like helplessness, anxiety, and irritability, it ultimately exacerbates mental health issues and leads to abuse or dependence.
If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s critical to seek professional help as soon as possible. Although friends or family members can provide mental health support, it’s important to remember that they are not a personal therapist or rehab center.
You’ve experienced trauma.
People who have a history of abuse, trauma, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often find talk therapy to be a valuable resource. Talk therapy provides the opportunity to explore difficult experiences with a licensed therapist who is experienced in hearing about traumatic experiences.
Unlike talking to friends or family members, you don’t have to worry about “protecting” your mental health provider from these experiences. Your mental health provider will be able to help you develop new ways to think about traumatic events and strategies to break down traumatic associations, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
You don’t enjoy the things you used to.
People struggling with anxiety disorders often feel disconnected from real life. Consequently, they lose interest in the things they used to enjoy, whether it’s a favorite hobby or socializing.
If you’re constantly struggling with feelings of apathy, therapy can help you identify what’s holding you back, free yourself of negative thoughts, and reconnect with the things you love.
How can you find the right therapist?
Because the quality of the relationship between you and your mental health provider can significantly influence the effectiveness of your treatment, finding a good match is important. Here are a few tips to help you find a new therapist:
- Search for a new therapist online. Google search results can help you find the top psychologists in your area for treating anxiety. The American Psychological Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also offer search engines to find mental health professionals.
- Check with your insurance provider. Therapy is expensive in the United States. If you’re not sure how to find affordable therapy, ask your primary care physician for an in-network referral. Many insurance companies also offer a psychologist locator for in-network psychologists with lower deductibles. If you’re uninsured, many community mental health clinics offer free or low-cost therapy. Additionally, many private practice therapists offer more affordable options for uninsured patients.
- Schedule a few initial consultations. Scheduling a few initial phone calls or first sessions can help you find a good fit. During a first appointment, you’ll be able to ask about hours, fees, and location, and get a feel for the therapist.
- Be clear about what you want. It’s important to know that different types of professionals offer therapy services, including clinical psychologists, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), licensed professional counselors, and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs). While psychologists hold a PhD and PsyD, social workers and counselors typically hold a master’s degree. Meanwhile, psychiatrists prescribe medication but do not offer cognitive therapy.
- Consider your preferences. For the most effective treatment, it’s essential to work with a therapist you feel comfortable with. If you’d prefer to work with a particular therapist—for example, someone who shares your gender or race, it’s perfectly acceptable to narrow your search. Additionally, make sure to take each therapist’s specialty and credentials into account.
To start your search, reach out to a licensed therapist through WithTherapy. WithTherapy connects each patient to a shortlist of mental health professionals, so you’ll be able to find a good match regardless of your personal preferences and requirements.
We know that anxiety can feel overwhelming, and it can hinder you from living the life you want. One of the experts on the WithTherapy platform can help you manage the symptoms of anxiety, find strength, and reach your mental health goals.
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