5 Things To Think About If You've Been Given An Anxiety Diagnosis

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How To Deal With Anxiety Disorders Through Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & Medication
Self, Health And Wellness

If you've been recently diagnosed with anxiety, stress problems, or generalized anxiety disorder, you probably have a lot of questions about how to deal with anxiety disorders and get back to living your life!

But what does a general anxiety disorder mean for you, and what are some symptoms of anxiety you need to watch out for? 

You have no idea what to do next, and that might even be making your anxiety worse.

RELATED: Why Trying To Overcome Your Anxiety Only Makes It Worse

Maybe you aren’t exactly surprised your doctor said you have anxiety. You’ve lived with a lot of stress for a long time.

You tried to tell yourself you're just a high strung person or have a sensitive stomach, or that it's just "minor" social anxiety.

But the symptoms can be so bad at times it's overwhelming. Being told you actually have a “real thing” could be a relief. 

Here are 5 things to ask yourself about anxiety attacks and how to deal with anxiety if you've been recently diagnosed:

1. What is anxiety?

It can be different for everyone, but in general, there are a few different anxiety attack symptoms.

Here are some common ones:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

These are universal symptoms of anxiety. But the thing is that you are a unique person with your own history: No one’s anxiety is exactly the same.

You have your particular reasons for being anxious; some of them you know. But the roots of anxiety are never entirely conscious, and your symptoms may differ. 

So what’s your next step? What do you do to feel better?

Your doctor might have given you some options. Medication. Psychotherapy. You might not be someone who likes to take medication, but this anxiety is pretty hard to live with.

And if you’ve never been in psychotherapy before, you don’t know how you feel about that either. So how do you choose?

If you’ve lived with anxiety for a long time, you’re likely discouraged and it’s hard to believe things can change.

If you have anxiety for the first time and are suddenly living with panic attacks or all of the anxiety’s very difficult symptoms, you might feel desperate for a quick solution. What’s the best option?

2. Do you just have to take anxiety medication or do you have options?

If you’re open to it, medication will give you some pretty immediate relief.

And if your anxiety is severe, or maybe even intolerable, medication can be quite helpful.

Yet it isn’t the answer to what’s creating your anxiety in the first place. In that sense, psychotherapy provides a deeper, longer-term solution.

If you decide to try medication, your primary care physician or internist will likely be able to prescribe it.

Or they can give you a referral to a psychiatrist who specializes in medication for psychological conditions.

If you go the medication route, most often a combination of psychotherapy and medication is most useful.

In this case, your therapist can give you a psychiatric referral.

Once psychotherapy is underway, you may not need medication any longer. That is a personal decision and can be discussed as a part of your therapy.

If you haven’t been in psychotherapy before, you might be wondering where to begin.

And you might have no idea what kind of therapy is effective. If you’ve been in therapy before and didn’t find it helpful, it’s probably time for a different approach.

But what are your choices and how do you decide?

3. How do you know what therapy is best?

You may have heard about different types of therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), psychodynamic, or psychoanalysis, but you have no idea how to choose. 

The Mayo Clinic website describes CBT, session-limited psychotherapy, in the following way: “CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”

CBT is a thinking and skill-based therapy that gives you tools to manage anxiety.

Both medication and management techniques for anxiety control can be helpful, but only to a point.

These take the edge off, help you cope with your anxiety, and offer temporary relief.

Neither medication or anxiety management “skills” resolve the underlying reasons for your anxiety. And that’s important in the long run.

Here’s why: one of the reasons you have anxiety is that you are (not consciously) controlling and pushing aside your feelings.

Medication and behavioral techniques to manage your anxiety are other means of control.

RELATED: 8 Reasons Anxiety Actually Makes Life Better

If you’ve put away your feelings, you might have uncomfortable physical symptoms as a way for these feelings express themselves. You might have constant anxiety, or you might have panic attacks.

If you tend to unconsciously “compartmentalize” or put your feelings in boxes, neither medication or skills provide a safe place for your feelings.

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapies, or psychoanalysis itself, offer a relationship with your therapist in which your feelings can be felt and known.

Not only do you need a safe place for your feelings, but to really resolve your anxiety symptoms, these methods help you get to the underlying roots.

Getting to the roots of your anxiety is most important. But how does that happen?

4. How can you get to the roots of your anxiety?

Believe it or not, anxiety is not “the thing” that needs to be cured. Anxiety is a signal of something not-conscious going on.

In fact, your symptoms are a plea for this “something” to be listened to and heard.

Buried feelings, memories, or negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself are unconscious causes of anxiety. 

For long-standing relief, these must be understood by someone who knows the special language of unconscious symptoms.

That someone is a therapist trained in psychoanalysis or psychodynamic therapy, which means they know how to listen for what you can’t know yourself.

You should experience this kind of understanding even in the first session with comments or questions you haven’t thought of before.

But you’d probably like to know what sort of thing might they find, right?

The answer is individual to you. Generally, anxiety has its roots in unresolved childhood problems, trauma, or difficult feelings you did your best to “overcome.”

You thought you were done with them. But really, they’ve been blocked and put somewhere else in your mind.

Maybe as a child, there was no one to listen. Or your feelings were rejected. Or you felt ashamed. So, you closed down.

The feelings you had to shut away re-surface in anxiety symptoms, most often in challenging situations or times of your life.

These can be understood and you don’t have to do it alone.

The right therapy is a safe place to open up your feelings — at whatever pace you need to go.

Your therapist should listen carefully and link your feelings back to childhood experiences, memories, traumas, and hurt.

You’ll begin to know what makes you anxious and the ways the past still lives in your current life and relationships, and you and your therapist will work it out.

5. Will you ever get any better?

You’re wondering: Is there really hope for me? There’s definitely hope. But if you’ve lived with anxiety for a long time, you’re probably pretty discouraged.

This is especially true if you’ve had periods of calm, only then to have your anxiety hit you over and over again.

You can get relief from any of the methods outlined above. Medication helps. CBT will give you tools.

But if you know you’ve had childhood trauma, struggle with low self-esteem, worry about illness or losses, are scared to open up and try to find love, then working out what’s at the roots of your anxiety can give you the best chance for change.

Look for a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapist who makes space for all your thoughts and feelings to be understood.

A therapist who doesn’t try to talk you out of anything, but encourages you to express whatever is on your mind.

They will understand your experiences deeply and link them to the past

This kind of therapy gives you the best chance to stop the vicious cycle of your recurring anxiety loops. Talking things out will give you a great sense of relief.

A therapy that combines giving you space to feel all the feelings you’ve shut away, along with an understanding of their origins changes not only your anxiety, but your life.

You’ll discover yourself in ways you didn’t think possible and your entire life will be much happier.

RELATED: How To Explain Anxiety To People Who Always Ask What You Could Possibly Have To Worry About

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in people suffering from all forms of anxiety, including generalized anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, and phobias. If you want to contact her and find out how she can help you rid yourself of anxiety in your life, reach out to her at her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission from the author.