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According to the Anxiety and Depression Disorder Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
They are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety can be thought of as a reaction of fear to a triggering event: fear of judgement, fear of a catastrophe, fearful predictions of the future. Anxiety can range from feeling a bit under the gun with a tight deadline, to its extreme expression, panic disorder.
The vicious circle that transpires if you are an anxious person, and which spirals into a continually worsening cycle in panic disorder, runs something like this.
Suppose your boss tells you that he wants you to deliver a big project by Wednesday. “That’s not enough time!” you think; then another automatic thought pops up unbidden: “If I do a bad job I might get fired!” That’s a scary thought, and it frightens you.
On hearing that scary thought, your millenials-old body system reacts to the threat by readying to fight or run to safety. It floods the system with adrenaline, and has you breathe a little faster to bring in extra oxygen for the coming effort.
You notice these physical changes, but rather than leaving it at that, you think: “This is not normal, my heart is really beating fast – and I’m breathing faster! I’m having a heart attack!” So you sit down; and with this new terrifying thought your heart starts beating even faster and your breathing becomes even more rapid as you panic. Hyperventilation causes carbon dioxide to drop in your body and you start to feel lightheaded. You are getting really frightened now and grip onto your chair, thinking: “Oh no, it’s true, I feel so lightheaded, I’m about to keel over!” And so on.
“When I came to see Deborah for my panic attacks, I had tried everything. I was afraid to take a train, get on a plane, go to a shopping mall, get in an elevator, go to a cinema, and more and more I just wanted to stay home and not go out. I was just barely able to go to my job. I was desperate to get my life back. From the very first hypnotherapy session I felt better, and after the second I went for a whole week without a single panic attack. After four sessions I took a flight home for a holiday with no problem!”
– Mohamed H.
In fact, a triggering situation has produced certain unhelpful thoughts, producing certain unhelpful emotions, producing certain unhelpful behaviors…which produce more and worse unhelpful thoughts, and so the cycle continues. Anxiety victims are generally interpreting future events in a catastrophic way, while underestimating their ability to cope.
It is possible to break this cycle by first paying closer attention to your thoughts, sensations and urges, and then examining them, evaluating them and reinterpreting the situation. By then taking new and different actions in light of the reinterpretation, the vicious cycle is broken: so when the boss wants a project by Wednesday, you can for example learn to think a more helpful and realistic thought such as: “He’s a reasonable guy so he wouldn’t have given me something I can’t do, and besides, I’ve always got my work done on time. I can do this.”
Our cognitive work can then go further than this, in that certain core beliefs (“I’m not good enough”) can create inaccurate assumptions (“If I do that project for my boss my work will be so bad I’ll get fired”), and the rewriting of these internal scripts, with the help of hypnotherapy, can bring real change for the better.
Anxiety victims also tend to seek safety by avoiding the thing they are afraid of…which worsens their anxiety. Therefore, an important part of treatment consists of carefully-conducted systematic desensitization, again with the support of hypnotherapy to condition mind and body before facing the real situation. Hypnotherapy trains anxious clients to bypass their emotions to learn to judge what’s happening in an uncritical way – and thereby aids in freeing them of their fears.