Anxiety is the body’s evolutionary response to stress. Anxiety shoots our body into survival mode, through activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This activation has helped our species survive when a threat has been present. Our body is designed to switch off when that potential danger has passed. However, some individuals’ minds (especially those with anxiety disorders) do not switch off, and the threat remains. Their feelings and bodily sensations are heightened, and they continue stay in the fight-or-flight mode. People can only stay in that mode of panic for so long, and many people have found temporary “fixes” to the problem. Avoidance, distraction, and pushing away are commonly seen, and they feel that it takes the threat away because, at some point, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and takes control to bring the body back into a state of homeostasis.

            People with anxiety disorders get into a vicious cycle where they see certain stressors as a threat, engage in behaviors that cause temporary relief, and when they body calms down, it strengthens the belief that their initial threat is real. Individuals who live with this often wonder why they are feeling this way, and why they have so much more difficulty with certain tasks than a normal person. At this point, there are typically two ways to look at the situation. You can either put yourself down because you feel like you should be better, or you can embrace those negative thoughts/feelings/emotions. Therapy is a great guide for individuals to see and accepts these things, as well as gaining tools to behave different with intrusive thoughts.

            A study conducted by Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, found that “people who habitually accept their negative emotions, experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health."  This study goes on to explain those who commonly resist their fears end up feeling more psychologically stressed. Whether it’s OCD, Social Phobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or others, most of these individuals habitually avoid their negative thought/feelings/emotions/experiences.        

            I have experienced many of these things in my own life. It is hard to explain how I feel in certain moments, and it is often times terrifying. I worry so much about future things that are out of my control, and I normally respond by avoiding many situations entirely. If there are situations I cannot avoid, I normally wait until the last possible second to finish the required task/s. My anxiety goes beyond a fear of failure, uncertainty, etc. into more of a fear/phobia of fear. Because I have habituated my fears for such a long time, and reinforced my behaviors (avoidance, distraction, shutting down), I now fear even thinking about certain tasks because I know what the fear feels like. 

            Working at this clinic has helped me see how clients with anxiety disorders can gain the tools necessary to deal with basically anything. Through the use of CBT, DBT, ACT, Mindfulness, Cognitive restructuring, perceptual retraining, and much more, individuals gain an important “toolbox” of skills. Clients also get the opportunity to engage in Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. This therapy works, and helps clients work through a hierarchy of distressful situation without neutralizing (engaging in a behavior that makes the threat go away, which reinforces that the threat is real).  By the time they graduate, the skills learned at the clinic should translate beyond the walls of therapy, and give them the confidence that they can take on anything, no matter the intensity. 

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