An Anxiety Epidemic

Pop quiz…what’s the number one reason that people are seeking mental health related services? It’s all about anxiety!

Anxiety is an extremely relatable word. After all, who hasn’t experienced it at some point in our lives. We have an instant mental picture of what someone is experiencing when they talk about feeling anxious.

It might come as a surprise that I would like to eradicate it from our vocabulary. Why? Because while we think the word conveys a lot, it says very little about what’s actually going on.

I work with young adults, many of whom have spent most of their life in therapy. They’ve been given tools and techniques to “manage” their anxiety. Sometimes it works, but the moment they are deeply triggered by an event, they fall back into their old behavior patterns. Because the focus of the therapy is to alter the (anxious) behavior.

When I work with younger clients, I lead them through an exercise that asks them to go back in time, one year at a time, to determine exactly when they noticed feeling anxious. Fifteen minutes into a conversation with a client, we were able to identify that his source of anxiety started in a specific class in middle school.

Now that we pinpointed the source, we were able to identify the emotion he felt. In his case it was fear of being ridiculed by a teacher. BINGO!

It started off as fear each time he went to class. It expanded to every time he thought about his class, and finally it mushroomed into different events that his subconscious even remotely thought of as being scary.

Most of don’t realize that anxiety is actually a physiological term and refers to the cascade of changes that take place in our body when our fight/flight response is triggered. This response is triggered when we feel emotionally or physically threatened. In other words, it is the symptom and not the cause.

Uncovering the cause of my client’s anxiety allowed us to address his emotion (fear) that was keeping a tight hold on his anxiety. As we released the fear, we reduced his anxiety because subconsciously he no longer felt threatened.

Releasing the fear takes time and determination, but it’s more effective than chasing symptoms as his anxiety morphed from one situation to another.

This is true whether you’re talking about a pre-teen who has an eating disorder or a 20 something year old who has a hard time coping with stressful situations.


Author: Naheed
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