How can psychotherapy help with anxiety?
By reducing the high level of anxiety to a more "normal" one. Anxiety in itself is an "alarm system" that protects. Without it, you might risk your life when crossing the street. When your inner alarm goes off without distinguishing degrees of danger, however, it can be very distressing. Here are some interventions to "re-callibrate" your individual fears.
Managing physical symptoms
In order to manage intense physical anxiety symptoms, you learn techniques of deep breathing and relaxation. These self-empowering tools alone help you gain control over disabling fear responses, such as muscle tension, heart palpitations, trembling and shaking, shortness of breath etc.
Decreasing fear reactions with hypnosis
Hypnosis, used in combination with traditional talk therapy, has been proven to very helpful with severe anxiety. While in a calm state, you re-experience one of your specific fear-situations and learn to respond more adequately. No need anymore to either "lose it" or avoid things that you'd like to do but are afraid of. Whether it's asserting yourself, take an exam, etc.
Recognizing and coping with "hidden" feelings
Since anxiety can be caused by buried feelings, it is essential to identify them. For example, many people with anxiety disorders were discouraged to express emotions when growing up. It is then very hard to be touch with your "real" feelings and needs because they were systematically avoided and suppressed. In a way, feelings are like children: When ignored, they become angry and want attention: Muscles tense up, the heart starts racing, fists clench, headaches start, illnesses develop.
Testing the reality of your thoughts
Anxiety is often a product of what you tell yourself -- negative self-talk: Assuming the worst outcome, generalizing (all, never, always), exaggerating, being perfectionist (I should... they should), bullying yourself ("you're so stupid...") etc. These mistaken beliefs are mostly automatic. You can learn to recognize specific thoughts, test their reality, and re-structure them in a more positive way.
Making changes in lifestyle
Holistically speaking, we examine your lifestyle throughout therapy. In order to regulate your anxiety, you may need to make certain changes in terms of nutrition, sleeping patterns, regular exercise, meditation etc. These simple factors alone can make a big difference.
In cases of severe anxiety, I may recommend seeing a psychiatrist to support therapy with medication. Otherwise it might be too difficult to focus and integrate insights.
I had a client who suffered severe back pain, headaches and anxiety attacks. Her therapy goal was to learn to control her anxiety. Breathing exercises, hypnosis and various lifestyle changes helped her manage the symptoms, but it was like ointment on a wound that kept erupting. Her symptoms wouldn't heal.
When we were able to connect her physical symptoms to childhood events, she realized that current triggers were not so much related to the nasty boss or annoying friend, but more to her feeling of being unloved, ridiculed, and having no voice when growing up.
She learned to tolerate deep sadness and anger that she had been avoiding all her life in order not to be hurt again. She realized that she had formed (mistaken) beliefs about herself and others as a child -- not good enough, stupid, drawing attention to herself, etc. As children we tend to make meaning of things in black and white terms.
By connecting the dots, healing could begin...