When you feel anxious, you may feel a number of symptoms, including shortness of breath, shaking, worry, restlessness and or even panic. Anxiety impacts many of us on a daily basis; however, for some individuals, anxiety can be consuming and overwhelming. You may fear engaging in normal everyday activities, such as working or engaging with friends. When your symptoms escalate and interfere with your daily routine, you may have an anxiety disorder, such as Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Although psychiatric medications, such as benzodiazepines or certain anti-depressants, can alleviate anxiety symptoms, many people do not want to rely on these substances and are concerned about side effects. Fortunately, there are many effective non-medication treatments. Biofeedback and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two efficacious therapies to treat anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a multi-modal treatment that involves altering an individual’s cognitions, emotions and behaviors through psychological techniques. CBT is a structured therapy in which your psychologist or therapist will guide you through various therapies aimed at reducing anxiety symptoms.
- Cognitive Therapy: Negative thinking is a major contributing factor in anxiety. Learning ways to alter unhelpful thoughts is the primary goal of Cognitive Therapy. Replacing thoughts, such as “I will fail” or “I am not in control”, with adaptive and rational thoughts can significantly reduce anxiety. In fact, some psychologists believe that it is the negative thinking that actually causes anxiety to develop in the first place.
- Exposure Therapy: This treatment is aimed at “exposing” you to a specific fear or phobia. For example, if you fear flying, you will be guided through an actual flight after you’ve learned how to control your anxiety. This may be done through relaxation exercises, mindful training, and Cognitive Therapy.
- Relaxation Techniques: Learning how to relax and calm yourself down during times of stress is essential. Deep or paced breathing, body scan, progressive muscle relaxation, visual guided meditation are all proven ways to relax. You may find that one of these works better than another. What is important is that you practice your chosen relaxation technique on a regular basis.
Biofeedback is essentially a training method with the goal of altering your physiological state in a specific manner. Using computer software and instrumentation, you will learn how to gain better voluntarily control over certain bodily functions, such as breathing. Heartrate Variability Training (HRV) is a specific form of biofeedback that involves learning how to alter one’s breath and heart rate to induce a calm and alert state. Engaging in HRV training can have a profound effect on one’s physiological state, cognitions and emotions.
Your trained therapist will provide you with education and instructions throughout your biofeedback session. Typically, you are seated in a comfortable chair attached with sensors to the skin. You will be watching a video monitor and engaging in various software programs designed to reach a certain physiological state. Users of biofeedback have reported reduction in anxiety symptoms even after one session; however, at least 6-8 sessions are recommended.
Whether you engage in CBT, biofeedback or both, you are likely to feel less anxious and learn new ways of coping when you encounter stressful situations. Dr. Mazzei, Clinical Psychologist and board certified in biofeedback, incorporates CBT and biofeedback to help individuals suffering from anxiety. If you are interested in starting therapy, contact our office today at 847-386-8829 .