In treating anxiety, it can be helpful to classify certain types of anxiety. Typically, we have four types as follows:
Cognitive anxiety is related to a person’s thoughts or thinking patterns. It includes worries, uncertainties, self-doubts, apprehensions, and repetitive cycles called ruminations. It is the kind of anxiety that keeps a person awake at night and distracted during the day. People talk of having the same thoughts or worries over and over again, or a video clip is replaying in their brain constantly, or they appear obsessed by a certain detail or issue that upsets them.
Somatic anxiety is a more physical experience for some people. There are different symptoms for each person. It is experienced as a range of possibilities including nausea, increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, feeling cold and sweaty, muscle tremors, and tension. The person uses phrases like ‘butterflies in the stomach’, feeling ‘light-headed’, needing to ‘catch their breath’, or ‘feeling cold’ in a warm room.
It is important to realise here that although the symptoms might be obvious to a trained professional the person often does not realise at all that these symptoms are anxiety-related. For some people there is a strange disconnection between their symptoms and their knowledge of what is happening.
State anxiety is when a person experiences anxiety in very specific set of circumstances. A good example would be exam nerves, or stage-fright or making a speech in front of a group of people. The anxiety symptoms are much the same as before, but the situation is often very specific. Social anxiety and performance anxiety are common forms. The person might be quite confident under most other circumstances but when they have to perform a particular task or in a particular state of mind, they cannot find the same confidence and anxiety begins to overwhelm them. Sometimes this attack of anxiety can be very severe and lead to ‘choking’ where a person’s ability to perform the task collapses with catastrophic consequences.
Trait anxiety is related to a persons personality type. People who might be introverted, neurotic or very reactive might be able to sense a threat very early. In our modern hectic and busy lifestyles, this can lead to the experience of near constant anxiety and a heightened awareness of situations and people. People with trait anxiety often seek quieter more peaceful spaces and places. A corollary of these traits however is that these same personality traits also provide qualities such as imagination and creativity, new approaches and understandings to old problems and visionary skills. Such traits are seen in artists, musicians, writers and other creative and emotionally charged people.
All anxiety can be distracting, causing doubt and uncertainty in decision-making. Mild anxiety can cause a loss of concentration, focus and performance in the short term. Moderate anxiety creates a type of paralysis in decision making and stops a person moving along productively in their life. Longer term or chronic anxiety can be debilitating, exhausting and sometimes damaging. Unchecked anxiety can cause people to lose jobs and relationships. A great many lost opportunities occur before a person begins to realise that their anxiety has been the cause.
The overall treatment ethos for anxiety is to build confidence through self-awareness. This can be achieved through exposure to the challenging stressors, but also through practice and training to build skills and the ability to be more confident. Self-awareness and understanding the triggers can be immensely helpful. Mindfulness and meditation can be very helpful. Learning to self-regulate and monitors one’s own thoughts and feelings can be very important. Becoming aware of negative automatic or repetitive thoughts and checking for avoidant behaviours are valuable strategies too.
Anxiety can usually be treated easily through psychotherapy.
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