Anxiety, Worry and Stress Treatment
We group stress, anxiety and worry together as although they may be distinguished from each other they share similar foundations.
Anxiety is a general term used to describe a number of psychological problems that are characterised by excessive worry, apprehension, nervousness and fear. All of us might feel a certain amount of apprehension from time to time, perhaps about things such as an upcoming interview, our finances or an examination. This is usually perfectly normal, and indeed might in some cases be helpful. For example, being worried about the outcome of an exam might encourage us to study appropriately in preparation.
Anxiety is intrinsically connected to our fight, flight or freeze reflex system. When we are in potentially threatening situation, hormones are released that prepare the body to take appropriate action, for example to run away from danger. Adrenaline causes our heart to beat faster, sending more oxygen around our system for the muscles to use for energy. We breathe faster, again bringing more oxygen into the muscles. Our mouth might get dry, which is a sign our stomach has paused its normal routine to allow more blood to the muscles. We could start to sweat, in order to keep the body from overheating. Such reactions are very useful in appropriate situations, but if our fight flight or freeze system (the 3 F’s) is being activated inappropriately, then we might find ourselves experiencing problematic anxiety.
Anxiety is considered a problem when it is seriously affecting our ability to function. When the 3-F-sytem is erroneously activated, we could say that our body is lying to us, leading us to believe that we are in danger which requires an immediate response. An important CBT concept is that anxiety is a result of our overestimation of threat levels, combined with an underestimation of our ability to cope with that threat..
A number of problems are classed as anxiety disorders, for example social anxiety, OCD, phobias, panic attacks. Another type of anxiety is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is a type of chronic worry.
Worry is a common phenomenon, and like other forms of anxiety, can have a useful initial function. Worry is a form of problem solving, where we are spending time considering our options in given challenging scenarios. If, however, we find ourselves in a state of perpetual worry we may have a problem. Such worry can be free floating, bouncing from topic to topic. It may be that we are excessively concerned with things we fundamentally do not control.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition where these free floating worries can feel like we are going round and round in circles. It can be one of the most destructive psychological disorders as it can seem as if it is invading most of our waking moments. Treatment often involves learning that we do not have to 'play with our thoughts' and that we can learn to just ‘park’ them. We can also learn to avoid consuming ourselves with challenges out of our control. Thoughts are just thoughts, and they are not something to be scared of, even if they might feel frightening some times.
Stress is a term commonly used to describe a state of being where we are, for whatever reasons, finding it difficult to cope. This might be because we are dealing with some really tricky situations within our life. The executive coping with a demanding job involving targets and deadlines, with inadequate support and unsympathetic management. The housewife or househusband with a child or children who are refusing to play nice, whilst the housework needs to be done, the shopping bought and food prepared. The college student with essays due, exams pending and the expectation of stellar grades in order to attain that job or postgrad deemed so important for the future. Indeed, any of us dealing with the bills that need to be paid in an increasingly fraught economic environmentcan find ourselves subject to stress.
These examples are situations that many if not most of us would find difficult. But if we are getting to the stage that we feel we just can't cope anymore, worrying about it all the time, having difficulty in winding down or sleeping, we might be experiencing unhelpful levels of stress that we may need help from a CBT therapist to resolve.