nervous is uncomfortable, but it’s not necessarily something we can (or should) avoid. If properly channeled, a healthy level of nerves can prepare us physically and emotionally to perform at our best.

But what happens when these feelings get out of hand? When they cause us such extreme distress that we avoid certain situations, don’t take reasonable risks, or otherwise miss out on opportunities because we’re paralyzed by fear? When fear and anxiety dominate your emotions, interfere with your ability to function, or disrupt your quality of life, it’s likely time to see a professional, as you may have an anxiety disorder.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 18%, or 40 million Americans, experience an anxiety disorder each year. These can include General Anxiety Disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. This is not a small problem, and it’s one that needs our attention.

Signs and Symptoms

Although each anxiety disorder manifests different symptoms, there are some general ones to look out for. Our bodies can give us a lot of clues as to when something is wrong. If someone

has clinical anxiety, he/ she may feel restless, experience sleep problems (either sleeping too much or not enough), have a racing heart that doesn’t slow down, feel highly self-conscious, humiliated, or embarrassed, have shortness of breath, or feel panicky.

What Causes Anxiety?

Psychology is a relatively modern field, and social scientists are still studying to fully understand the root cause of anxiety disorders. Recently, a team led by a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin studied brain imaging that suggests anxiety is hereditary . Still, environmental factors can contribute significantly to clinical anxiety, and risk factors include life circumstances such as poverty, being divorced, and having a high-stress career. Additionally, females are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

Besides the normal life factors that can cause or exacerbate anxiety, there are a few key experiences that cause some of my clients to seek therapy. These include a fear of intimacy, conflict-avoidance, emotional attachment issues, and a struggle being vulnerable with a partner. Anxiety can bring deep shame and also make individuals feel like they’ll never maintain a meaningful emotional or sexual relationship with someone else.

How Therapy Can Help

Some individuals who are struggling may be hesitant to try therapy because they don’t believe it could actually help. When we’re mired in anxiety, it’s understandable to feel hopeless and like things can’t improve. However, a trained psychotherapist really can assist you if you are experiencing anxiety.

One of the most effective ways to manage anxiety and runaway emotions is through a strategy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In this technique, the individual develops the skills to recognize destructive thought patterns, actively stop them, and then replace them with healthier cognitive pathways. It is more than simply “thinking yourself happy:” it’s a highly effective coping skill to challenge and stop the emotional spiraling that comes with anxiety.

Another technique a therapist may employ is exposure therapy. This involves having the individual confront a deep-seated fear and slowly become accustomed to doing something that was once terrifying for him/her. The term “exposure therapy” may sound daunting, but it’s little by little and happens in a safe, controlled environment to give the client practice dealing with anxiety-triggers they will encounter in real life.

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