Introduction to Anxiety (Los Angeles)
Of all those who attend therapy sessions in my Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach counseling offices, the most common reason and underlying problem they come to see me for individual therapy as their psychologist is actually anxiety in some form or another. I am often asked: “How common is anxiety actually?” “Will I ever get over my constant worry?” “What can I do about my anxiety?” “How long does a panic attack last?” “Will medication help my anxiety or just make me dependent on pills?” among others. They are relieved to discover that anxiety counseling makes a significant difference in the patient’soverall quality life and is something they will benefit from on a daily basis. In Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach, as well as in Century City, Brentwood, and many other cities around Los Angeles and Orange County, anxiety is an overwhelming problem. Fortunately, the available resources in California particularly, as well as the entire US regarding this anxiety problem have improved in recent years (and I’m hoping to contribute to this hot topic today!).
For example, scientific advancement has allowed us to learn of the different types of anxiety which exist, including several phobias. You may suffer from social anxiety, general anxiety, panic disorders, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Whatever the problem may be, the first thing to note is that I empathize with the level of discomfort and distress you have to experience on a regular basis. As someone who has worked in mental health as a clinical psychologist, I understand how anxiety can impact one’s life. Depending on severity, it can be a rare occurrence all the way up to a paralyzing effect that prevents even simple tasks from being completed on a regular basis.
Today, I’m going to assess anxiety from various perspectives and hopefully shed some light on the topic. As well as discussing exactly what anxiety is and how it affects us, I’ll look into common symptoms, causes, and treatments. What’s more, we’ll even address some misconceptions along the way!
Anxiety – Our Own Creation
So, what is anxiety? It’s a word that seems to have taken on its own life in recent times, but what does it actually mean? Before heading into all sorts of definitions and variations, as a clinical psychologist, the first thing I want to address is that anxiety is something that WE manufacture. For anxiety therapy to be effective, this needs to be understood and taken in.
In addition to this, anxiety can rear its head in many different ways whether it’s nasty/scary thoughts, nausea, an overwhelming sense of panic, or even paranoia. Although we hate this side to us and wish it would go away, it actually acts as a protective function and could be considered a heightened sense of survival.
Just as the ‘Check Engine’ light comes on in the car (always at the wrong moment, may I add!), anxiety triggers as a warning system of danger. Even though the car has been to the garage and no faults were found, the warning light still shines – much like our anxiety. Sometimes, there are no dangers and yet our minds are racing at NASCAR speeds. Despite the lack of danger, our lives become cumbersome and agonizing as we constantly worry, think of worst-case scenarios, bite our nails down to nothing, and obsess over the smallest things in life.
If you’ve ever experienced an anxiety/panic attack in the most relaxed of environments, you’ll understand that the anxiety system can activate in the safest of places. However, the mind finds it difficult to differentiate between safe and life-threatening. If the brain spots a correlation between a current set of circumstances and a previously precarious situation, what it thinks is the right response needs to be triggered.
Common Examples of Anxiety Responses
Before we look at social anxiety, in particular, you may have experienced one (or many) of the following examples;
- Lack of control or fear of death – Do you have a specific phobia or flying, entering certain environments, or even leaving home?
- Fear of rejection – Do you struggle to make or maintain new relationships?
- Fear of losing relationships – Do you do crazy things just to keep the attachment with certain individuals?
- Fear of ridicule – Do you avoid speaking in front of large crowds or try everything you can to avoid ridicule?
If you recognize any of these, I’ve hopefully got some information today that can be useful (we’re going to look at potential solutions and things you can do to overcome anxiety). Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be an easy process…yet it will be a rewarding one if you’re willing to work consistently towards a better future.
Just like depression (or even happiness!), we can never truly rid ourselves of anxiety but the idea is to learn how to differentiate between anxiety having a purpose and it simply getting in the way!
Social Anxiety – An Introduction
As we continue our journey to the knowledge that’ll help us overcome anxiety, I think it’s important to look at social anxiety in isolation. In truth, this is common symptom/ of anxiety I see regularly and lots of the information here today will pertain to social anxiety.
What’s Social Anxiety? – As humans, we’re all unique (this is what makes us so interesting, right?). While one person might love to spend time around others, somebody else (perhaps even a sibling) may be the opposite and prefer to spend time alone. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with either of these traits. However, there comes a point where avoidance of social situations becomes rather problematic.
With social anxiety, an individual can feel the normal symptoms of anxiety while in (or even before) social situations. For example, you might be afraid of being judged by others, avoid opportunities to meet new people, worry about simple interactions with extended family, acquaintances, and potential clients, be self-conscious, or have an innate fear of being either rejected, humiliated, or embarrassed in public.
When it comes to social anxiety, everything is very much on a spectrum. While some people only feel anxiety when asked to try something new or get themselves into situations for which they haven’t prepared, others have to plan conversations a number of times in advance while in line at a shop or approaching a friend. With the underlying fear of being judged, you might struggle to eat or drink in front of others – again, this is a common problem (and the reason why I’m here to provide some help!).
Why’s Social Anxiety a Problem? – When social anxiety starts to negatively affect one’s life and impact the outcome of the decisions that are being made, then it becomes a problem. Frequently, I’ve spoken to people who avoid going shopping, meeting up with friends, attending a class, going to the gym, or doing a multitude of other things. For me, this is a real shame because it prevents you from living up to your real potential. You could be the world’s best trumpet player, but your social anxiety may be holding you back from performing what you love and sharing it with others; perhaps this is perhaps an unusual example, yet I’m sure you understand the message.
With some anxiety sufferers, they especially feel the symptoms when expected to perform. Sticking with the trumpet theme, they may struggle to stand on stage and play a piece in front of a crowd. Elsewhere, examples could include perhaps playing sports or giving a speech.
In many cases I see as a psychologist in Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach, the anxiety begins at a young age and it starts with shyness. As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with being shy; for every shy person, there’s somebody with confidence to make them feel comfortable. Over time, however, the symptoms progress and it can significantly impact an adult life. As we head towards the symptoms and causes, I should point out that some studies have claimed that as many of 7% of Americans have some form of social anxiety (so it isn’t as rare as you may think, and you definitely aren’t alone!).
Social Anxiety Symptoms – Ultimately, the symptoms of social anxiety are wide and varied and you may have something unique to you. This being said, the most common symptoms include an increased heart rate, nausea, rigid posture, a lack of eye contact, sweating, blushing, trembling, a sensation of the mind going blank, or a self-conscious feeling when around others.
Additionally, those with social anxiety could find the whole notion of being around others rather scary, they could feel embarrassed, awkward, and afraid that they’ll be judged by others. Finally, as we’ve already seen, they could avoid social situations altogether and stick to locations where they feel most comfortable (normally at home).
Social Anxiety Causes – Before looking at solutions and actions you can take after recognizing aspects of yourself in this guide, we should first look at causes and some important notices (I’ll dispel some myths!). Now we’ve learned all about social anxiety and anxiety in general, why does it occur in the first place?
Although some scientists suggest that it can be a result of genes, much research has attempted to uncover why some family members can suffer from crippling anxiety while others don’t. When it comes to the combination of anxiety and fear, there are many of the same parts of the brain involved. For some experts, they believe that it comes down to how individuals read a situation. If you’ve ever thought ‘why is that person frowning or staring at me?’, it’s likely that your brain is misreading the situation (thus making your social anxiety worse).
Furthermore, others think there’s a link between social anxiety and underdeveloped social skills. Without the right tools, you may lack the confidence and conviction to talk to others and not worry about what they’re thinking.
Over the years, psychology has been able to learn what helps those with anxiety and I’m proud to have played a part in this in the Laguna Beach and Beverly Hills area. As science and technology continually improve, I hope we can continue to find better treatment options. Currently, investment seems to be heading towards environmental factors and the role that stress plays; with this in mind, as a profession, we’re continually learning the ways in which people with social anxiety can be helped.
Treating Anxiety – Important Notes and Definitions
Earlier, I said I’d be dispelling some myths; unfortunately, the debates regarding centaurs and the Loch Ness monster will go untouched here (sorry!). As you probably guessed, I’m focusing on social anxiety and the information you’re likely to read online while researching the topic. Therefore, you’ll find some clarifications below!
Stress – For the most part, this section will be clearing up definitions of certain words because I often see them used interchangeably. For example, starting with ‘stress’, the two are very similar and there are certain overlaps between the two topics. However, the feeling of stress normally results from a particular event that causes nerves or worry while the feeling of anxiety can still occur in people who can’t necessarily identify a single stressor in their lives.While anxiety needs to be managed, stress doesn’t have to be an essential part of leading a successful life.
Panic – If you’ve ever wondered how panic attacks fit into the mix, these are usually acute episodes of intense anxiety. Depending on the severity of the attack, it could last for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours. What’s important to realize is that panic attacks are normal in situations of trauma and danger; on the other hand, it isn’t normal when the circumstances shouldn’t lead to such a reaction.
For many with chronic anxiety, they also suffer from severe panic attacks so this needs to be included in any treatment plan. Often, it will require a two-step process where you first learn how to minimize panic attacks before then treating the underlying anxiety.
Trauma Therapy – As is well known with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), experiencing trauma can lead to anxiety for a number of years. Normally, we try to steer clear of the word ‘trauma’ even though it’s something that many of us will experience over the course of a lifetime. In terms of a ‘real’ or ‘proper’ definition of the word, I find that it’s better to leave it to interpretation.
Over the years, I’ve heard countless people saying ‘I’m being silly’ or ‘I’m exaggerating’. When it comes to trauma, these experiences are…well, traumatic. No matter how much we like to skirt around the word itself, it can be positive to accept our past if we want to improve anxiety regarding said experience.
Drugs and Alcohol – Without clearly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve seen people turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of temporary relief. While some recognize their anxiety is the cause, some are simply unaware that this is what has driven them to such desperate measures. With anxiety therapy, an important step will be to recognize the role of drugs and alcohol with regards to anxiety. If you’re serious about quitting, it’s important to address the key question; how do you replace this anxiety reliever with a more positive solution?
Prescriptive Psychiatric Medication – If you visit a doctor and explain how you’re feeling, the immediate response is likely to put you on some form of psychiatric medication. In fact, depression and anxiety are the two leading uses for these types of medication (and often the same medication will be prescribed for the two issues). While medication can provide short-term relief, and even long-term relief in some cases, they don’t treat the underlying problem; it’s like putting wallpaper over cracks on the wall. Though it might dress the problem, the wall is still suffering underneath.
For my own service, the reason I’m so passionate about helping people is because they don’t want psychiatric medication. Although the work we’ll do together will be harder, it will be more rewarding and should allow for stronger results in the long-term.
Treating Anxiety – Real Solutions for Anxiety
At this point, I hope you’re ready to hear some real solutions and the best ways to start managing your anxiety rather than letting your anxiety manage you. While I will talk about medication, these will only be for short-term relief and they’ll be used in conjunction with the other solutions in this section. Without further ado, let’s take a look together!
First Steps – Before anything else, the first (and often hardest!) step will be to visit a health care professional. After discussing your health history and how you’re feeling, they’re likely to ask questions and run exams to ensure that what you’re experiencing isn’t due to a physical problem. From here, you’ll be referred to either a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or a social worker.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety, a treatment plan will be devised for you and it’ll likely include the following;
Group Therapy – Along with the short-term solutions I will introduce in a moment, what can be done about the underlying anxiety? Firstly, the larger issues can be examined with group therapy, instantly, this can cause some concern and people worry about sharing stories in front of others or even sitting in a group therapy session worrying about judgement or embarrassment. Before you immediately skip this section and look for the next one, please do read why I think it can be beneficial (and how I’ve seen the results many times already!).
Before being suggested for group therapy, you’ll work with me one-on-one to start. As we build our relationship and work on the immediate issues, we may decide together that group therapy will be beneficial. In this case, we’ll make the arrangements whenever you feel ready.
While it’s true you will get less attention from me (or your chosen therapy provider), you’ll be part of something bigger with people who understand just what you’re experiencing. As I said earlier, everybody in the world is unique and so not everyone in the room will be the same, but, differences and similarities considered, the whole group will have the same goals.
- Why Consider Group Therapy? – Because you can build relationships with others in an environment that promotes safety, support, growth, and skill building.
Psychotherapy – How will the one-to-one sessions go? Known as psychotherapy, this breaks down into a number of different fields but one of the most common is known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Commonly used for social anxiety, the idea with this method is to alter the way you think. In addition to this, we’ll attempt to adjust behavior and the reaction to certain situations.
Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the anxiety around the situations that once made you nervous and fearful. Additionally, the sessions may include the teaching of social skills. As I mentioned earlier, some scientists believe that social anxiety can arise due to a lack of social skills so this can be an important part of the therapy.
- Why Consider Psychotherapy? – Psychotherapy can help overcome anxiety, change your natural way of thinking, and reduce anxiety in social situations, and the group therapy can help to put all this information into practice.
Medication – To finish this guide, I’ll take you through some of your short-term options in the shape of medication. With social anxiety, the three most common medications used are beta-blockers, anti-anxiety medication, and antidepressants.
- Beta-Blockers – By blocking some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, the idea is to reduce the heart rate, sweating, and other issues that normally arise in social situations. Specifically, beta-blockers are preferred for performance anxiety.
- Anti-Anxiety Medication – As a powerful medication, the results with this option are felt almost instantly. However, when taken for a prolonged period of time, we can build a tolerance and so the amount we need to feel the effects gradually increase. In some cases, the individual can become dependent on the medication. With this in mind, anti-anxiety medication will always be a short-term option while you also attend psychotherapy and group therapy sessions.
- Antidepressants – Finally, we know this medication as a treatment for depression but it’s also used for anxiety. Almost on the opposite scale to anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants can take weeks before results show and they can also cause side effects such as nausea, headaches, and sleeping irregularities.
There we have it, my guide to anxiety; I hope you learned from it and can take confidence that anxiety isn’t a rare problem. In the country, in your state, city, town, and neighborhood, there are many people struggling with anxiety. Thanks to our improved understanding of the problem, we’re in a stronger position than ever before to provide solutions.
If you have any questions, concerns, or just want to learn more about how we can help, please feel free to get in touch with me today. As a psychologist in Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach, I’m passionate about helping those with anxiety and helping them to lead a more confident and fulfilling life. Why not contact me today?
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