Anxiety is immobilizing. It makes you scared and interferes with almost everything you do (or want to do). If you have constant generalized anxiety; panic attacks; or obsessive worry and ritualistic behaviors, you know this all too well. Anxiety can be cured. But, of course, you’re worried about how to make it stop now. And, you don’t know, how.
What you do know is this: your anxiety goes on and on. Just when you think maybe it’s finished – it attacks you again. And, when it does, it comes on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. You have no idea what to do.
Now you’re searching for answers. And, here you are reading this post. You feel pretty hopeless about it. Can anxiety really be cured? Do you have to live this way forever? No, you don’t. But, you feel so desperate you’d like 5 easy steps to make your anxiety stop once and for all.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any quick answers. But that doesn’t mean curing anxiety is impossible. Sure, you’ve probably tried everything you know and nothing has worked yet. That’s left you thinking you need to soldier on and just cope with it alone. But, is that true?
That’s a tall order, thinking you have to cure your anxiety on your own. Most significant anxiety, especially if it’s debilitating, requires a psychotherapist who understands the roots of your particular anxiety.
So, let’s talk first about the different kinds of anxiety you might have. Then, we’ll discuss why there aren’t 5 easy steps to make it stop. And, most importantly, what kind of help you need to find the cure you’re looking for.
Types Of Anxiety You Might Have
Generalized (Pervasive) Anxiety
If you have generalized anxiety, you’re anxious all the time. There doesn’t seem to be a reason. So many things make you anxious it’s hard to pinpoint where it comes from. This, of course, is hard to live with. Often you don’t even think there “should” be anything to be so anxious about.
If this is the case; you may experience physical symptoms; you shake, sweat. or have particular preoccupations about situations that make you scared. Maybe you have social anxiety and don’t like to go out. Or you worry about whether or not you’re sick; even quite seriously ill. Yes, your anxiety is generalized to everything.
There’s nothing you can figure out that would be making you so anxious, and you keep trying to be “reasonable about it.” But, being rational doesn’t stop your anxiety. And, because it doesn’t, you feel more trapped and frustrated. Why can’t you reason your way through it? You try so hard. Shouldn’t that work?
It isn’t that easy. Being “rational” generally doesn’t help. Yet, believe me, there are reasons. Reasons you can’t find on your own. Reasons that exist in experiences in the past; and feelings you pushed aside long ago and weren’t able to feel.
Those buried feelings might emerge in panic. Panic attacks come on unexpectedly and strongly. You feel absolute terror. In most initial episodes of panic – you’re terrified that you’re dying. Until you come to know you really aren’t; that the fear of dying is the panic attack “speaking.” It’s pretty awful though.
And, anyway, danger seems to be everywhere. Someone you love could die. A catastrophe is ready to happen; you “know” it. Everything seems out of control. It’s unbearable.
What can you do but try to avoid any of the situations you fear. Yet, this doesn’t really work. Because you don’t have any other way of managing your panic, you locate your fears “out there;” in what seem to be actual dangers in the world.
But, even though you don’t know it, you’re really afraid of some intense feeling or feelings you’ve pushed aside and tried to control. Not consciously, of course. This has probably gone on for a long time. What happens, though, is that these feelings emerge in a panic attack. And a panic attack is a signal that these feelings are there.
You’re probably frightened of your anger. So you’ve always kept it at bay and under tight wraps. Fear of anger is a common undercurrent in panic attacks (but can be a factor in other forms of anxiety too.) An inability to cry is not uncommon either.
In order to “cure” your panic, you need help bringing the not-conscious roots of your feelings (and your fear of them) safely into the open. If the origins of your anxiety are understood, you can learn to live with feelings in a very different way. They don’t have to lead to anxiety. After all, feelings are a part of life.
Obsessive worry is a tormenting kind of anxiety, and it’s often the result of early childhood trauma. With obsessive worry, even ritualistic behaviors, something has happened to make you feel very unsafe. Maybe that there is no one to count on. Plus, you’ve been left with a lot of irrational guilt; and you worry constantly about doing something wrong.
A critical voice in your head tells you you’ve made some awful mistake or warns you not to make a “wrong move.”
Anger feels dangerous, just like it does in panic disorder. But, then again, so do any feelings you can’t control. You try to be constantly rational, so you don’t feel anything. You think things out. Yet, feelings most often can’t be reasoned with.
Even if you aren’t aware of your feelings, feelings do exist. Hidden in the torture of your anxiety or the rituals you’re forced to perform. The main torture exists in any decision, or move, you have to make. All are subject to terrible doubt. You make a move and you change it. You’re tortured by the thought: what if the opposite is better?
So, you’re terrified of doing anything. What if it’s wrong? Obsessive worry is particularly immobilizing. There’s always some danger to avoid. With obsessive anxiety, the danger is that you must do everything just right or something “bad” will happen.
It’s impossible to live this way. What do you do? How do you get out of obsessive worry – or any other form of anxiety? Understandably, you want some quick and easy ways to fix it. Now.
Why You Can’t Stop Anxiety In 5 Easy Steps
There aren’t easy answers, because the roots of all anxiety are unconscious. You might know some things about your anxiety, but there’s a lot you don’t. Maybe you know you’re terrified of social events. Or meeting new people. Or of situations where you “might be judged” and you’re sure you’ll “mess up.”
Maybe you’re afraid of being unwanted or unlovable; so it’s hard to go on dates; open up to anyone new; smile; or not be anxious if someone doesn’t text back right away. Or maybe you can’t text, or talk; always afraid of saying the wrong thing.
These are some of the things you know. But, as hard as you try to tell yourself they aren’t true; as hard as your friends (if you open up to them) give you pep-talks; you just aren’t convinced. And, your anxiety goes on and on.
It’s the things you don’t know that make it hard to stop being anxious on your own. Most are rooted in long-ago experiences. Childhood trauma. Early separation anxieties. Experiences that made you suspicious about love.
Losses you couldn’t feel sad about or grieve. Things you that made you angry (but you couldn’t be because you felt guilty). Or afraid you’d be punished. Feelings about people you couldn’t count on that make it difficult to trust. If you had no one to listen; and no safe place for these feelings; you had no choice but try to “forget.”
These couldn’t be felt or expressed. They were too difficult to feel on your own. Now, they come out in anxiety. In whatever kind of anxiety you have.
What It Takes to Cure Anxiety
How do you cure anxiety – whether generalized anxiety, panic attacks, or obsessive worry? By getting to the roots of your early experiences and reconnecting the specifics of what happened long ago to the situations that make you anxious now. That is truly the best answer for a cure. But you can’t do that on your own.
You need a place to safely bring those past situations and relationships out into the open. To remember. And to finally express the feelings you now carry within your anxiety. When anxiety is severe and paralyzing, it’s well worth finding a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety. Especially, one who knows how to get to the unconscious roots.
What kind of therapy, though? Behavioral – or skill-based therapies – have their place. But, they give you tools to override your anxiety; not to work out its roots. A psychoanalytic (or psychodynamic) approach is the most effective cure.
Does that mean 3-5 times a week on the Freudian couch? Not necessarily at all. Frequency is an individual thing. What a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approach means is having a therapist that takes into account early childhood experiences.
Each of the situations that stir up your anxiety needs to be understood at the deepest level. Especially, the unconscious early childhood sources of your fears. Anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, and obsessive worry must be traced back to the fantasies and fears behind them.
These have to be taken seriously. If they are, you won’t live with the unsettling and immobilizing symptoms of anxiety any longer. And, this is how anxiety can be cured.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Los Angeles-based psychologist, and psychoanalyst. I work with people of all ages struggling with severe anxiety that doesn’t seem to stop. Anxiety can be cured. Psychotherapy offers the best kind of help.