We all feel anxiety and fear from time to time. They are a normal response to stress and have useful functions in our lives. Too much or too little anxiety, however, can be problematic in a given situation. People who have anxiety disorders cannot achieve moderate and manageable levels of anxiety and feel that their life is ruled by these emotions. The five major types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia (or Social anxiety disorder)

When we fear something, we tend to avoid placing ourselves in a situation where we may encounter what we fear. By avoiding it completely, we never have a chance to learn what we need to overcome the fear. When those fears include everyday situations and objects, our lives can be severely curtailed and limited. Peculiarities of anxious thinking include:

  • Probability overestimation: assuming a bad outcome based on anxiety, even if there is evidence that can disprove that belief.
  • Catastrophizing: assuming that a particular situation will be completely unmanageable if it occurs.
  • Rigid rules: beliefs about the way things should/should not be which prevent us from finding creative solutions to what causes our anxiety: i.e. “I can never make mistakes,” “I can never be late,” “I must always get an A on exams.”
  • Engagement in anxiety-provoking assumptions that may not even be true, but that cause fear regardless.
  • Holding negative core beliefs that are deep rooted and never specific that contribute to anxiety and fearful thoughts. This often takes the form of broad over-generalizations such as: “ I am incompetent,” “I am unlovable,” “ I am a failure,” “ Things will never work out for me,” “People will always betray me” etc.
  • People with anxiety are more likely to remember and pay close attention to information that is consistent with their anxiety-provoking thoughts. Their experiences are biased and they selectively hold onto what makes them anxious and often ignore information or experiences that disconfirm their beliefs.
  • People can have irrational impulses that are scary and frightening even though they have no real desire to do them and have never acted upon them in the past. They experience these impulses in thought almost the same as if they were acting out the impulse.
  • After a while, anxiety about having anxiety can occur. Anxiety then starts becoming a constant, like a big black cloud hanging over you.

Treatment of anxiety disorders includes medications, psychotherapy, or both. Medications often do not cure anxiety disorders, but can keep the anxiety symptoms under control while a person receives psychotherapy. The basic principles that we at Cairn Center use in the treatment of anxiety besides medication management are:

  • There is a difference between anxiety and fear.
  • Anxiety and fear are reactions to perceived threats, which means that we have interpreted a situation to be dangerous.
  • When you believe that an external trigger poses a threat, you deal with it by avoidance, escape, or safety behaviors.
  • Anxiety and fear is greatly influenced by beliefs, thoughts, assumptions or predictions that you hold about a situation, sensations, thoughts, and images that trigger your anxiety.
  • Awareness of what thoughts provoke anxiety needs to occur. Often they are so automatic and quick, almost like a habit, that we do not know the true source.
  • Anxiety worsens and grows as we attempt to deal with it through temporary measures such as distracting ourselves, avoiding situations or experiences, escaping, and other “safety behaviors.”
  • Unfortunately, we are feeding our anxiety with these behaviors. They offer false security as they only make us feel better temporarily. They often reinforce the fear because we do not challenge the core belief that led to the anxiety and fear in the first place. They help your anxiety thrive.
  • Through escapist behavior, one can be caught in a vicious cycle, where the more you restrict your life to avoid anxiety, the worse it gets. You start feeling bad about yourself and incapable of controlling these emotions. You beat yourself up for it and feel even weaker, more vulnerable and more incapable. Anxiety worsens.

This is the cycle that we strive to break at the Cairn Center.