Susie had a secret. At 55 years of age she was terrified of heights. In recent years, Susie had gone out of her way to avoid high-rise buildings. Amongst city buildings, Susie had overwhelming feelings of claustrophobia combined with head spins and faintness.
Because of her fear, which was a secret to everyone except her husband, Susie’s world decreased in size and her enjoyment of life diminished. Susie’s children had left home ,and her husband was increasingly frustrated with her irrational fear of heights and its impact on their life together.
Nine year old Lucy had a different problem. She was extremely shy and rarely spoke outside of the home, terrified that she would do the wrong thing or make a fool of herself. She hated to speak in front of her class and was often sick on speech days. In the school yard she was usually alone, afraid to join in with other children. Her parents were deeply concerned about her well being.
Problem’s like Susie’s and Lucy’s are common and thankfully, are quite easy to address. Fear, worry, and anxiety can take many forms. Research suggests that at least 1 in 10 Australians experience clinical levels of anxiety in their lifetime.
Symptoms of Anxiety
First, anxiety presents in the thought processes and centres on some type of perceived danger or threat. Second, anxiety is experienced physically in the body through the “fight or flight” response, such as rapid heartbeat, stomach pain, headache, tiredness, etc. Third, anxiety affects the person’s behaviour. Susie avoided places with high rise buildings and Lucy avoided interacting with other children.
Sadly, anxiety affects relationships, social and emotional wellbeing, academic and work performance. Anxiety may also increase the risk of depression and substance addiction.
What causes anxiety?
Some of the most common causes of anxiety include:
It is often possible to identify a close relative with elevated levels of anxiety. Research has shown that parents who experience anxiety tend to pass on a general personality that is more emotionally sensitive (Rapee et al., 2008). Anxious children tend to have a personality that is more emotional than the average. While they may be more caring, they may also worry more.
People with anxiety often focus their attention on the potential danger in a given situation; “I will be embarrassed,” or “my parents will die if I am not with them.” This way of thinking keeps anxiety alive.
Anxious people avoid ‘feared’ situations. This may be obvious, like not wanting to go to school, or less obvious, like working extra hard to avoid mistakes. Avoidance keeps the negative thoughts real because they remain unchallenged.
When anxious parents cope by avoiding certain situations, the child may learn to handle their fears in the same manner.
Life stressors such as being bullied, sickness, or parental separation may trigger anxiety in some children.
How can therapy help?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is typically a time-limited approach and is based on the idea that our thoughts, not external things (like people, situations, and events), cause our feelings and behaviors.
Thus, we can change the way we think in order to feel or act better, even if the situation does not change. There is empirical evidence that CBT is effective for the treatment of a variety of problems, including anxiety. Therapy gradually teaches the person to confront their fears and learn through experience that they cannot believe everything that their worried brain tells them.
¬© Claytontherapy 2016
How do I find out more?
If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and cannot resolve it alone, consider contacting RWA Psychology to seek professional help. Additional resources are also available at Beyond Blue, SANE Australia, Kids Matter, Anxiety Australia, and Lifeline.