Feeling constantly on edge or feeling a chronic underlying sense of dread about life can drain so much joy from life. If you’ve experienced chronic anxiety, you probably have tried everything you can to not feel this way. What doesn’t help is advice from well-intentioned people to “just stop …”
In therapy, we take a different approach. In therapy, I work with clients to understand how anxiety has become woven into their life story. Together, we find patterns of thinking, feeling, and coping – some of which are wonderfully adaptive, and some of which, worsen anxiety symptoms.
Through therapy, people experience relief in letting go of stories or beliefs that don't fit who they are and that don’t fit their lives. They lose interest in wanting things they thought would make them feel better, and they become happier as they live more fully in the life that fits them. They become more aware of the hurtful things they say to themselves that worsens their anxiety. They become more kind to themselves. This results in increased experiences of calmness and joy in daily life.
With most of my clients, especially those with any degree of anxiety, I introduce mindfulness activities and strategies, like grounding exercises, breathing strategies, and guided imagery. Mindfulness work can be extremely effective in calming people who regularly feel emotionally overwhelmed, and it is supported in the research literature.
Anxiety and depression can also be manifestations of a traumatic or painful childhood or earlier life experiences. Adults who experience post-traumatic stress from earlier in life may have a constant sensation of feeling unsafe. They often experience intense distress/panic when remembering certain events that ended decades earlier.
In therapy, clients with chronic anxiety symptomatic of post-traumatic stress learn strategies to calm themselves when they are distressed. They learn to feel more comfortable in their bodies and more confident in their abilities to manage their fears and anxieties. They become more effective in separating the past from the present. They learn to feel safe, and, even when people are in their 60s and 70s, this experience can be transformative.
As with other issues, therapy for trauma includes mindfulness work. My clients and I may decide to incorporate additional strategies and approaches more specifically oriented to trauma work, including EMDR.
My clients feel more competent in relationships. Through insight into themselves and others, they become aware of choices they have in responding to others. They are more skilled at "fighting fairly." They become more skilled in balancing their needs with the needs of others in their lives, and they learn to say "no"consistently without feeling overwhelmed with guilt. They become more realistic about their expectations of loved ones, which reduces frustration and anger, criticism, and circular arguments.
I help my clients become more proficient at avoiding unhealthy friendships, and finding/maintaining friendships characterized by respect and reciprocity.
My clients who are grieving feel much less alone in their journey when working with me. They have more insight in the normalcy of their intense feelings, and they learn to have more patience with themselves as they heal. They learn that grieving in a grief-denying culture doesn't mean that they are crazy. It means that they are healing in a society that expects grief to resolve in a week or two instead of months or years.
I work to help my clients who are grieving move forward and find different strategies for belonging in the world. My clients who are estranged from family members learn to balance the chronic ache with activities and relationships that are meaningful.
Goals & Hopes
Therapy also involves helping people identify and realize meaningful and achievable professional and/or personal goals. Too often, many of us hold ourselves back from reaching for things that we want and care about – and that are reachable. Through therapy, clients become more proficient in recognizing and using their skills and strengths in maximizing their contributions to the world.