18 Feb 2022
Can Seeing a Therapist Help with Anxiety?
18 Feb 2022
As many of you are aware, a large number of people in Canada experience mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression. You probably have family members or friends who have sought out mental health services as a result. You may also know people who have experienced serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, who may have sought more long-term assistance and support at mental health facilities or from community service providers. Like many people, you may think that only those living with severe forms of mental health concerns (or illnesses) should seek and/or be helped by supportive services like counselling. You may even define mental health concerns based on these diagnoses which can pathologize and stigmatize people seeking help as weak.
All of these micro (am I weak?) and macro factors (e.g., societal stigma around mental health) may stand in your way of seeking support, or even understanding that your mental health concerns are valid (e.g., “I’m not as ill as the person living with schizophrenia” or “if my family member survived and coped with a mental illness on their own, then why should I “complain””?). But when we feel sick as a result of physical conditions, we seek help from a healthcare provider, so why can we then not do the same when it comes to our mental health? In fact, in many instances, our mental health may even contribute to physical health concerns (e.g., digestive problems, cardiovascular issues, menstrual cycle dysregulation, hormonal imbalances, etc.) if we do not address them. Let us explore if seeing a therapist can help with anxiety and if it’s the right option for you!
Anxiety: Emotions, behaviours and relationships
At times, we may only reach out when our emotions, behaviours or relationships are impacted in a more pronounced way (for example, loss of job, ending of a relationship, a death in the family, a physical illness); however, there are a broad range of experiences that may cause you distress – and may indicate therapy, as you navigate this often confusing world of your mental health. In determining if therapy is right for you, you can ask yourself some general questions:
What are the signs of anxiety or symptoms that a therapist may work with me to understand?
How will counselling help me manage my anxiety or fears that I may not be able to do on my own?
We all experience feeling nervous or anxious at some point in our lives; whether over a big job interview, an exam or even a first date. These are factors outside of our control that cause us to feel stress, for the most part, dissipating after the events have occurred. We also experience more stressors over every day experiences, like paying the bills, working a job that we may not like, or worrying about kids or spouses. Once again, we may learn ways to cope over short periods of time: whether through meditation, doing things that we like, distracting ourselves (our favourite hobbies, listening to music, etc.) or speaking with our loved ones about our concerns.
All too often, though, when stressors are experienced over longer periods of time or are more severe, we may start to feel anxious more frequently and more strongly. In these instances, our experiences can lead to anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and phobias). Anxiety concerns may not only express themselves psychologically, but also in the form of anxiety or panic attacks, which can be very scary if we aren’t aware what is happening to us. Often confused with very serious physical conditions, such as a heart attack, these bodily expressions of anxiety can lead us to feel even more stressed, experience greater fear and make our feelings of anxiety much worse.
Although we hear about anxiety disorders a great deal in the media, we don’t always make the connection between anxiety disorders and one of the most common experience of them: Phobias. In everyday practice, I encounter people with phobias to a wide range of experiences and objects. Some common examples include snakes (interestingly enough, this fear is inked to survival of our ancestors, and has been biologically programmed within us through the generations); needles (Trypanophobia), which has become even more common (or at least more prevalent in practice) in the context of widespread vaccinations and; agoraphobia- the fear of public spaces, which can prevent us from leaving our homes – impacting our work, social lives and our mental health even further. Most common, though, are Social phobias, which may dramatically impact our ability to interact with the outside world, and contribute further to mental health concerns, including depression.
Anxiety Check List
When should I seek support for anxiety?
If you are feeling:
• On edge
• Worried constantly
• A lack control over your life
• Impending doom
Physically, you may:
• Become tired quickly
• Have difficulty concentrating
• Experience muscle tension
• Have difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping well or feelings of restlessness at
• Experience immediate intense anxiety when coming into contact with things you may fear
In more extreme cases, you may experience:
• Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or rapid heartrate
• Trembling or shaking
• Shortness of breath
• Smothering or choking sensations
Socially/interpersonally, you may:
• Seek ways to avoid stressful situations, events, objects, people or social situations that impacts your interactions with colleagues, family and friends
• Spend time in isolation to reduce anxiety
In counselling, we may use relaxation techniques, “exposure” therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, mindfulness, narrative therapies, among many other approaches to support the development of new, strengthening of current or reestablishment of past, overwhelmed, coping mechanisms.
Everyday TIPS for coping with stress/anxiety:
*Please note, in the examples above, we recommend reaching out to Natural Choice Medical Clinic, or your local counselling provider for support.
If your feelings, behaviours and interactions are not impacted in a way that you feel may require assistance in coping, you may carry out some of these straight-forward exercises to reduce the impact of acute stressors:
• Practice breathing exercise to reduce anxiety (e.g., counting your breaths)
• Listen to your favourite music in a comfortable environment (curled up on the sofa in your pjs)
• Enjoy your favourite (non-caffeinated beverage) in your favourite chair
• Read a book
• Set aside some “stress” time in which you expose yourself to your feelings associated with stress and work on replacing them with more “happy” thoughts.
• Make plans to shut off social media access a few hours before bed and use any of the above suggestions to relax to help you to fall asleep
If you are looking for more information or wondering if counselling/therapy is right for you, I offer FREE 15 minute meet and greets at Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph.
Registered Social Worker, MSW
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