The purpose of anxiety is to alert us to life-threating danger. Anxiety cannot be cured, only managed. Anxiety is a defense mechanism every human being possesses to alert us to life-threatening danger even when we are consciously unaware of the danger. Located in the amygdala and connected to the autonomic nervous system, anxiety occurs just as your heart
beats, or your lungs breathe without you telling them to. In 2023 we are fortunate to have homes that insulate us from the dangers of nature; however, it wasn’t long ago historically that people slept outdoors and relied on this defense mechanism for survival from animals and outdoor threats.
The overriding problem with anxiety is when we experience it in situations where there is no
danger. Our anxious response is disproportionate to what is occurring in our environments. You can’t stop this essential function of the body; however, you can manage it. In my experience as a clinician, clients who begin treatment with the expectation of being cured from anxiety have the poorest outcomes. So how do you manage anxiety? First, we must identify if the source of your anxiety stems from the autonomic or somatic nervous system. If you experience severe anxiety and/or panic attacks out of the blue without any rhyme or reason, you likely have unprocessed trauma. In this instance, the amygdala is wrongfully associating one of the stimuli in your environment as life threatening when it is not. Trauma-informed therapy and interventions such as EMDR and ART are effective treatments for this type of anxiety.
People who experience severe anxiety or panic attacks before giving a speech or before a
sporting event are reacting from their somatic nervous system which is the mind/body
connection. For example, if someone says something that embarrasses you, your skin color might blush or if you become angry you might turn red. In other words, what you think or tell yourself creates a physiological reaction. For this type of anxiety talk therapy is an effective intervention. Exercises I incorporate into the session involve identifying the top 5 things making you anxious and the consequences you are fearing. Learning how to identify and name your anxiety when you feel anxious is an effective way to manage it. Sometimes not knowing the problem is more stressful than the problem itself.
By naming it you begin to take the power back from the anxiety that has made your life difficult. After naming it, can you rate it on a 10 scale and then have at least 10 coping strategies to lower your anxiety from an 8 to a 6? These are some of the ways talk therapy helps with somatic anxiety. Understanding that anxiety is something to be managed, not cured, is half the battle for someone who struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In cases where anxiety and panic surface for no conscious reason, the autonomic nervous system is likely reacting from a previous trauma which has not been processed. If you experience anxiety before social events, giving a speech in front of a large audience, or just experience overwhelming anxiety in general from unprocessed trauma, your somatic nervous system is affecting your anxiety. The good news is anxiety is treatable and many people have learned to take power back in their lives.
If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.