by Nadia Ashjaee, Psychotherapist and Expressive Arts Therapist.
- Do you spend most of your day worrying?
- Do you feel isolated or disconnected?
- Is anxiety taking energy away from other activities?
Anxiety feels fast. A string of worried thoughts beads together until it wraps around your throat. Breathing becomes harder. Your heart pounds. You’re not sure if you can see straight. There might be a loud message on repeat, saying, “I can’t do this.”
But sometimes anxiety feels painfully slow. Like wondering when the party will end so you can just go home and curl up. Feeling like you can’t walk through a crowded area fast enough. You don’t feel like yourself. You wonder if everyone knows.
You may feel overwhelmed by other distressing symptoms of anxiety: rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, a sense of dread/worry, churning stomach/nausea, clammy palms, flushing of the face, shaking/trembling, a paralyzing state of overwhelm, feeling out of control, racing thoughts, inability to focus, and addictive patterns. And you wonder when will be the next time you feel ease again, if only for a moment. For now you just feel tired and stuck.
If You Struggle With Anxiety, You Are Not Alone
Anxiety is one of the most common problems for which people seek therapy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1percent of the U.S. adult population experiences anxiety.
But as common as anxiety is, it can feel very isolating. It can feel embarrassing or hard to talk about because it seems like you should just be able to fix it, to calm yourself down. It feels irrational and silly to get so worked up over something like ______, but your body cannot be persuaded by rational thoughts. With the busy pace of life, there may not have been a chance, until now to learn skills for building a healthy relationship to self or other.
Why Does Anxiety Happen, And Why Now?
While genetic disposition, gestational development, and neurobiological components present at birth are important factors, childhood experiences and family dynamics also contribute to anxiety. Our early relationships shape who we are, and if, as children, we are surrounded by anxious adults, our nervous system finds a way to absorb this anxiety so as to fit in with the tribe, thereby ensuring survival. When we don’t learn how to regulate our emotions early on, the nervous system can get stuck in overdrive, and anxiety becomes the default mode of functioning. This, coupled with the pace of modern life and pressure to do and have more, leaves many people grappling with symptoms of anxiety.
Sometimes the trigger for symptoms of anxiety is clear. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or conflict with a partner, for example, can understandably create enough stress to trigger anxiety. Often times, however, anxiety creeps up out of nowhere or has just always been humming in the background as long as you can remember.
Anxiety may be a reasonable response to stress, and can even be beneficial when it serves as a source of information about a situation or drives you to act when we might otherwise not. But when it becomes excessive and interferes with your day-to-day life it is time to seek the help of an anxiety therapist. You don’t have to struggle alone.
Anxiety Treatment Can Help You Regain Calm
The most recent scientific findings are showing that, contrary to previous belief, the brain is changeable (the term used to describe this is “neuroplasticity”). The brain is capable of generating new connections, rewiring itself in a way that leads to a change in our felt sense and our experience of being in the world. That’s exciting!
But how does change happen? The most important factor in making change happen is having a trusting relationship, such as the one you can foster with an anxiety therapist. The repetition of showing up to the safe space of a therapeutic relationship on a weekly basis helps rewire the nervous system to a calmer mode. Once we have established safety together in anxiety therapy, we will find the appropriate tools and techniques to help you find relief from your anxiety.
Often, the key is in the physical body. Anxiety evokes the sympathetic nervous system and puts our body and mind into flight or fight mode to defend against a perceived threat, whether or not this threat is a reality. When this fight-flight system fails, the system goes into a freeze state. Regardless of which of these positions – fight, flight or freeze – your nervous system is in at any given moment, reconnecting to the body in a safe way is crucial to restoring balance and ease. With stability re-established, cognitive functioning is back online and the mind-body system returns to its normal operations.
When the energy behind anxiety is harnessed, it brings us to the precipice of something beautiful. It is precisely the energy that once brought you suffering that can be the source of creating the life you want. In the safety of anxiety treatment sessions, you can tap into deeper feelings that hold the key to change. Together we will adapt to your unique experience of therapy and draw on a wide repertoire of tools in order to develop an approach that best fits your personality, needs, and therapy goals.
Expressive Arts Therapy: A Powerful Non-Verbal Method
Sometimes words aren’t enough. The arts bring us to the current moment in a way that allows us to dive into your experience together instead of talking about it. In this effective approach to treatment for anxiety, we will use a combination of verbal and non-verbal methods. This process often allows words to come easier, and the process of putting words to experience or sensation is how healing occurs.
Having a safe space and trusted confidante with whom to talk about your experience is essential to overcoming anxiety. With a warm and grounded presence, I can offer compassion and understanding while joining you in your experience, giving you the sense that you are not alone. As a therapist trained in using the arts, I have honed my sensibilities and can help you find the approach that best works for you. The nervous system is not built to tolerate stress in isolation. We need people, and you can find the safety and trust to help you heal in my office.
Do I have to talk about my childhood during anxiety treatment?
While the research shows that childhood experiences have a substantial impact on our health and well-being, it is not necessary to pick apart childhood memories during anxiety therapy. Certainly we will want to obtain some history before starting out work in order to have a complete assessment. But it is possible to work primarily in the here and now.
Do I have to be good at art to use the arts in therapy?
No. The therapeutic use of the arts focuses on the process of art-making, not the product. It is the expression of experience that is important, not aesthetic appeal. The arts are another way for you to communicate your inner world, and for me to hear you. This does not require any skill on your part.
Therapy takes too long. I need a solution now.
Together we can discuss options for stress relief. Short-term solutions, such as medication, exercise, and meditation, have been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. But to have lasting effects, a more in depth healing approach may be necessary. Advances in the field of therapy mean that you don’t have to be under years of analysis, and you can think of anxiety treatment as a relatively short investment in yourself that you will continue benefiting from for the rest of your life.
I used to suffer from excruciating social anxiety, to the point where it was impacting my day to day life, including my work and social relationships. I am so grateful that I made the choice to go to therapy. I was nervous at first and didn’t know what to expect, but I immediately felt at ease when my therapist listened to me in a non-judgmental way. We explored how my body reacted when I was triggered and my history of anxiety, and we used a series of role-plays and arts exercises that increased my awareness and allowed me to practice overcoming my anxiety. I have learned to recognize when I’m triggered and developed coping strategies to ease my anxiety to the point where I feel that I’m in the driving seat – not my anxiety. Thank you, LACC! Kelly W. Project Manager
I have worked with Nadia in both group and individual sessions, and I always felt reassured by her calming presence and grounding nature. Her natural compassion, breadth of knowledge and insightful questions have helped me to ease my anxiety, become aware of my triggers and decrease my everyday stress. Thank you Nadia! – Brian W., Sales Associate
I know how hard this step of the process can be, and it would be my pleasure to help you find relief. Contact me for a free 20-minute phone consultation to see if I am the right fit for you. I also offer therapy in Spanish and Farsi.
Nadia Ashjaee, M.A., REAT, LMFT #96988