Do you frequently feel anxiety? Are you tired of allowing your feelings of anxiety to take control of your life? If so don’t delay getting the help you need to live a happy life. To help understand the symptoms of anxiety and what you can do to overcome anxiety, I have interviewed therapist Dr. Stephen Pravel.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I attended Wayne State University in Detroit, MI where I received a Bachelors degree in psychology and an MSW degree. I worked for several years at an outpatient mental health clinic treating a diverse range of issues and a significant amount of substance abuse work. In working with substance abuse, treatment needs to be directive and didactic (educational). I came to realize that anxiety disorders need much directive and didactic intervention also, as opposed to more supportive or reflective intervention that might be more appropriate in treating other issues. I also became intrigued with the various similarities between people who suffer with an anxiety disorder, especially a tendency for a difficulty identifying emotions and the tendency to confuse emotional feelings with physical feelings, a trait called alexithymia. In 2005 I completed a PhD in psychology through Columbia Commonwealth University, and did my doctoral dissertation on the relationship between alexithymia and anxiety. I am a licensed psychotherapist and have been specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders for over 20 years.”
What are some signs and symptoms of anxiety?
“Of all the entire emotions humans feel, anxiety is almost certainly the one with the most significant mind/body relationship. By that, meaning anxiety has to be the emotion that creates the most, and most significant, physical sensations. So much so, that often the only thing the person is aware of is a physical symptom, which triggers fear and the fear of a medical problem or catastrophe. Hospital emergency rooms are often the first choice for the anxious person who fears he may be experiencing a heart attack or other medical crisis, only to be sent home with a sedative and diagnosis of a panic or anxiety attack. Medical doctors also commonly are the first professionals to make a diagnosis of anxiety. The number of physical sensations that can accompany and be symptomatic of anxiety are innumerable, and I can still encounter new ones.”
“Some physical symptoms commonly associated with anxiety include: nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heart burn, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle twitches, aches, pains or stiffness.”
“Many people may be painfully aware that they are fearful, worried or terrified and preoccupied with the fear of something dreadful happening – a sense of dread, with or without any number of physical symptoms. The person with Generalized Anxiety feels this sense of worry on a daily basis for months if not years. A person with Panic Disorder can experience the sudden onset of many anxiety symptoms within a matter of minutes, leading to the conviction that something catastrophic is going to happen to them – either a medical, mental or social catastrophe. The person with Social Anxiety feels the anxiety, and possibly panics, only in social situations or anticipation of such a social or performance situation. The person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experiences episodes of chronic, disturbing and intrusive thoughts that they realize to be irrational – an obsession. Or they may experience the uncontrollable need to perform a physical or mental act that helps to relieve anxiety and an obsessional thought – a compulsion. A person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can experience generalized anxiety symptoms and possibly panic symptoms, when confronting a real or imaginary reminder of a traumatic event in which they experienced a threat to their life, or witnessed such a threat to another.”
“Some people may have more than one anxiety disorder, and there is much overlap between disorders. I have noticed that people with Panic Disorder end up experiencing many of the symptoms of PTSD because their panic attack(s) have actually been so terrifying, they were traumatic experiences. Then, like anyone with PTSD, they begin to fear and avoid things associated with the traumatic event. I have also noticed that people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are similar to a person with OCD because they are so obsessed with their particular fears.”
What type of impact can anxiety have on a person’s overall life?
“The degree of suffering that an individual with an anxiety disorder can experience ranges from mild to disabling. However, most experience a moderate degree of discomfort that can significantly minimize their happiness and reduce their quality of life. It is hard to experience peace of mind and feel much joy in life when one is so anxious. Most anxiety sufferers demonstrate some form of avoidance behavior – the avoidance of people, places or circumstances that cause them fear. The degree of avoidance can be mild, such as avoiding driving certain types of roads, certain places, certain social situations, or certain activities – but overall their level of functioning is adequate. Some people can develop agoraphobia or the fear of open spaces, to the point that their activities are very limited or they cannot even leave their home. Anxiety sufferers usually become very skilled at avoiding their particular anxiety triggers, without many people around them being aware they are doing so.”
“Most people with an anxiety disorder are very bright, well-educated, personable, high-achieving, perfectionist and accomplished. Their external strengths and achievements make their limitations and fears that much more painful. They experience a sharp disconnect between who people see them to be, and who they feel themselves to be. Anxious people feel defective. They feel flawed and imperfect, so they can easily feel inferior to others. Again, all the more painful as that sense of inferiority is in sharp contrast to the very capable person they know they are. But most sufferers still do what they need to do – work, take care of family, socialize and engage in life, but they feel they often need to struggle to do it and to get through it. So they usually carry on, as they need to though not engaging with life as fully as they wish and not enjoying their life, as they should.”
How can someone overcome anxiety?
“The most effective form of treatment as demonstrated by numerous reliable studies is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. There is a simple cognitive model of anxiety: anxiety = a high perceived threat (or challenge) + low perceived resources (or ability to cope). In other words – if someone believes they are going to encounter a very challenging or threatening situation that they think they are not capable of handling, they will feel anxious. And the most interesting thing is that almost all of what people are anxious about is irrational. Yes, irrational. Because people do not fear real things, not real threats or challenges. They are made up things. When people are dealing with real life problems, they may worry or feel fear. But people with an anxiety disorder anxiously fear things they make up. It is because they fear a catastrophe that really never occurs. They fear a medical catastrophe, or social catastrophe, or mental catastrophe that never occurs. Their fear may make it feel like they have experienced a catastrophe, but it is never the catastrophe they most fear. People are most empowered to overcome their anxiety when they begin to realize their worst fears don’t materialize and that their abilities are greater than they had thought.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who has anxiety?
The 2 treatment options are medication or talk therapy. As I explained, the most effective talk therapy is CBT. I am very dismayed at the number of anxiety sufferers who seek professional assistance, their medical doctor, psychiatrist or other mental health professional, and are immediately prescribed medication. In my experience, a good and very experienced specialist in anxiety can help a person recover without the use of meds. Some people may need medication in the early treatment phase so as to reduce their anxiety and therefore increase their capacity for clear rational thought. Without the ability for clear thinking, it is hard for CBT to get a foothold. But generally speaking, a seasoned anxiety specialist can quickly begin to bring a person’s anxiety level down by the educational material presented in the early phase of treatment. My experience has been that most of my clients start to feel less anxious after only a few sessions – the result of information and interventions that begin to create a sense of understanding and the potential for self-control, therefore giving rise to newfound hopefulness and the prospect of a better future.
Thank you Dr. Pravel for doing the interview on how to overcome anxiety.
Dr. Pravel created a CD called, “Anxiety to Serenity” a 4 CD anxiety recovery program to be used by a client in therapy or used independently as a self-directed anxiety recovery program. He also made a website that is educational for anyone interested in learning more about anxiety disorders and successful treatment stories. These stories can provide anxiety sufferers a sense of hope as well as a better understanding as to how another has recovered from their anxiety disorder. For more information about Dr. Pravel or his CD check out his website on PanicCare.org.
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