Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most successful therapies to date for anyone suffering with Anxiety or similar illnesses like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The idea behind Anxiety and CBT has never been explained to me very well. Before starting this, doctors upon doctors gave me strategies such as ‘think happy thoughts’ or ‘breath into a paper bag’ when I mentioned how nervous I was, finding it hard to breath.
But even in my first session of CBT, I found a much clearer explanation as to what Anxiety is and why it occurs.
Anxiety is a build of adrenaline from our body’s natural defense system. Back in the days of our cavemen ancestors, there were real dangers: As a Sabre-Tooth Tiger heads for our camp, our muscles tense up, our heart rate increases to pump blood to the muscles quicker in preparation to run away, or fight (Fight or Flight process). Either way, with all the adrenaline our bodies have created, we are ready.
These days, fortunately, it’s not particularly often that you’ll be meeting an animal in the street that’s going to try and kill you. Our bodies however, still react the same to any form of danger – however little. But without a fight for survival, or a speedy getaway sprint, the adrenaline stays in our body, our chests stay tight and our heart rate keeps up. We might be shake, cry, or experience panic attacks – whilst trying to release the adrenaline.
I guess you could say that phobias are a type of Anxiety – for me, I’m petrified of spiders. There is literally no possible explanation to justify why they might need eight spindley fucking legs, hundreds of eyes and to pregnantly live in my house rent free.
When I see a spider, I will panic and the process of fight or flight will happen. Personally, I’ll always choose flight. ‘See ya spider, didn’t wanna use the living room today anyway.’ But by doing this, we’re actually feeding the phobia. And suddenly this tiny insect thing with an abnormal amount of legs is a great big monster that wants to eat us alive.
We all have Anxiety to some level; but most of us will experience anxiety in small amounts – when doing an exam, going to an interview, running away from zombies, etc…
As a visual, we can scale Anxiety on a speedometer in a car. The standard, average person may be at 50, so when they are anxious, this might rise up to 70-80.
But for those with Anxiety disorders, our natural, standard level is about 80-90, so when small worries occur – a funny look from a co-worker, muck on our favourite clothes, a slight change in atmosphere at a social event – it’s far quicker for us to go into overdrive and reach 100. The level of Anxiety no longer matches the importance of the worry. Which means we’re much more likely to run away and never face our fears.
CBT helps us to fight. To use the evidence around us to reduce our anxieties. It works to create a thought system to allow ourselves to think rationally – even in the hardest of times. But it is a two way process; you can only get out of it what you put in.
Therapists will help you create ways to release the built up adrenaline and also help find the root of your anxiety. Be it something from your childhood or current life situation and help you to build structure.
I never really knew about Anxiety until the doctors diagnosed me. I have always been a worrier – everyone knows that, but I didn’t know there might be a bigger underlying problem. It wasn’t till University where I suddenly was incapable of speaking in my drama lessons, or was too petrified to go in that I realised something was wrong.
From then on, I’ve been in the health system. It’s up and down, but in recent sessions of CBT, I think I’ve finally figured out the reasons for how I feel and can work through this to have a more positive future.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about each section of my CBT course, in the hope to help any of you who might not necessarily be able to access the Mental Health system in your area. Waiting lists for this sort or thing can be pretty long (months), but you don’t have to wait alone.