Anxiety can have a negative impact on our overall life. A great way to alleviate feelings of anxiety is applying relaxation techniques. To help understand where feelings of anxiety stem from and what type of relaxation techniques can help alleviate anxiety, I have interviewed therapist Janis R. Cohen LCSW.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinically licensed Social Worker in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. I have a Masters Degree in Social Work, specializing in working with children and families. I have worked with children, adolescents, adults and families for 20 years as a clinical consultant in community mental health centers, juvenile court systems and public and private school settings. I have been in private practice for over 10 years.”
“My work with children and families focuses on helping children develop coping and problem-solving skills related to Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, grief and loss, divorce, social skills, bullying, depression and feelings awareness and management. I work with parents to help them recognize their child’s unique strengths and challenges and how to help their child, based on their child’s personality, not on the parent’s agenda or their own upbringing.”
“I believe that parents can determine how a child copes and succeeds based on how they, themselves, react to life events. Children need a voice and permission to help make decisions that will impact them. Everyone matters and everyone possesses strengths that are valuable, regardless of age.”
Where does anxiety stem from?
“Anxiety is a natural reaction that involves mind and body. These reactions are adaptive responses to threats and danger. Anxiety is an alarm system that is activated whenever a person perceives danger or threat. When anxious, a person feels vulnerable; fearing loss of control, fearing the unknown and believes that they do not have the ability to cope with the threatening situation. This can be referred to as “fight or flight” syndrome. Physical sensations of anxiety can include increased heartbeat, startle reaction, fidgeting, localized and general sweating, rapid breathing, nausea, trembling hands, weakness in the legs and increased muscle tension. Symptoms can come on suddenly or build up over time until a situation provokes the reaction. Anxiety can be caused by genetics, stressful life circumstances, brain biochemistry, and learned behavior. Anxiety can present itself in a number of ways. It can be fleeting and occur every now and then or it can evolve into a more severe disorder, impacting the daily functioning of the person. Anxiety disorders that affect children and adolescents include Separation Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Phobias, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
How can relaxation techniques alleviate anxiety?
“People who have become skilled at utilizing thinking, based on choice, avoid reacting under pressure. People who experience anxiety are immediately reacting to it rather than choosing other options of dealing with the stressful situation. A person who reacts immediately to perceived danger believes that panicking is the only option. Believing that one has a choice in how they perceive and react to a situation eliminates the panic reaction when a threatening situation presents itself. This allows the person to feel more in control of their life and improve their self ‘”esteem.”
“By utilizing relaxation techniques, a person can learn to reprogram their unconscious to decrease anxiety in the future. The different relaxation techniques include deep breathing, progressive body relaxation, planned visualizations of peaceful places, and positive affirmations.”
What does a typical session using relaxation techniques look like?
“A typical session with both adults and children, using relaxation, begins with exploring how the client perceives the anxiety-provoking situation. This includes bringing awareness to the thoughts that arise when they feel anxious as well as the physical reactions the body produces as a result of feeling anxious. The goal is to empower the client to feel more in control of their perceptions of and reactions to anxiety.”
“When the client’s breathing becomes too shallow or fast, deep abdominal breathing is a great technique to regain control. Clients are encouraged to sit up in a comfortable position, close their eyes and become aware of their breathing patterns. The client is then instructed to breathe in through the nose, pushing out the abdomen while counting to four. The client then exhales through the mouth for a count of four, pulling in the abdomen. This process is encouraged until the heartbeat and breathing is restored to a more comfortable rate. The focus on the breathing, takes the focus off the anxious thoughts and feelings.”
“Progressive relaxation involves relaxing the entire body, beginning with the head, neck, jaw and face and progressing down to the toes. Often times, after I have conducted a progressive relaxation with a client, I will ask them to envision a healing light, with a color of their choosing, that infuses their body with healing energy; entering from the top of the head and flowing down through their entire body. Visualizing this healing light helps the client feel protected from the inside out. In addition, I teach my clients how they can imagine a peaceful, serene scene in their mind and hold onto it- imaging the scene in detail with all its sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and tastes. I encourage them to invite angels, spirit guides or special people in their lives to be present in this scene. The client can then call on this scene to calm them when they begin to feel anxious. Children often do very well with visualizations. One-way children find success through visualization is by objectifying the “anxious monster”. Children draw their minds’ vision of the anxiety on a piece of paper, helping them separate themselves from the anxiety and making it easier to “combat the monster” instead of feeling this elusive heaviness that travels with them.”
“Positive affirmations are incredibly powerful when battling any negative thoughts or feelings. When used repeatedly, the client has the opportunity to invoke personal power when they are feeling impaired and vulnerable. In session, I encourage the client to think of a positive affirmation that contradicts the negative thoughts. For example, a client might say to himself: “I have no idea what to do now, I feel out of control and I can’t handle this!” The positive affirmations could be: “I am in control”, “I can handle anything that comes my way”, “and I can get through this with ease.” When we affirm positive thoughts, we invite positive energy into our lives.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who is coping with anxiety and is considering getting counseling along with the application of relaxation techniques?
“Anxiety can be treated successfully. Anxiety exists along a spectrum of severity. Some people find it easy to talk themselves through their anxious feelings and examine the reality of the situation and then choose a course of action that relieves the symptoms immediately. For those people who feel that their anxiety has taken over their lives, interfering with their daily functioning, I strongly suggest that they seek out a clinician who specializes in anxiety; someone who can teach them how to change their way of thinking about perceived dangers and offer them coping skills that support their healing.”
Thank you Janis for doing the interview on how relaxation techniques can help alleviate anxiety. For more information on Janis Cohen or her work check out her website on www.cohenfamilycounseling.com. She can also be reached at 404-558-3971 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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