This is a very interesting question and does deserve some concrete investigation considering how common anxiety is, yet how many different kinds of anxiety someone can be diagnosed with.
For instance, is generalized anxiety worse than social anxiety?
What about having a specific phobia compared to separation anxiety?
Not to mention panic disorder and agoraphobia.
What are the differences between all these anxiety disorders, and do they require different treatment approaches, is overcoming anxiety possible?
And if they are all anxiety disorders then does that mean all anxiety is the same?
These are exactly the questions that are going to be answered right here and now.
For the sake of time and space, we aren't going to dive into every single anxiety disorder, but we will cover the 3 most common anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and phobias.
For today's purposes, I am going to lump agoraphobia with phobias more generally which will allow us to cover a wider range of anxiety while still hitting the key points and answering the question of if overcoming anxiety is possible.
Without any further ado, let's take a deep dive into the similarities and differences in anxiety disorders.
To kick things off, we'll start with specific phobias.
First and foremost, a phobia is defined as something that evokes intense fear and anxiety and is therefore avoided or endured with great difficulty.
The fear must be out of proportion to the actual danger being posed by the specific object or situation, otherwise, you're just being safe and responding accordingly to danger.
A phobia can be toward any object or situation, but the most common phobias are spiders, snakes, flying, and tight spaces.
But what makes a phobia fall under anxiety disorders?
To put it simply, it's an unreasonable fear given the situation.
Being terrified of a tiny spider no bigger than your thumbnail is quite unreasonable given that the vast majority of spiders are of zero threat to your well-being and even the most poisonous spiders are quite rare and only threats to young children and small pets.
The same goes for snakes for that matter.
The point is, the fear that is evoked is out of proportion to the actual danger.
So, can you get over a phobia, is overcoming anxiety as a phobia possible, and if so, how?
Yes, phobias are one of the disorders that can be completely overcome through the simple yet arduous process of exposure.
You can willingly confront your phobia to the point of completely overcoming anxiety and extinguishing the fear response.
I say arduous because it takes a lot of courage and trust to take small steps closer and closer to the thing that frightens you most, and is best accomplished with the help of a trained mental health professional.
Okay, so phobias are surprisingly straightforward, but what about something a little more complex like social anxiety?
Just like we did above, let's start by defining what we are talking about.
Social anxiety is the fear or worry of being judged or ridiculed by others in a social setting such as having dinner with friends, meeting unfamiliar people, or even a situation where others can see you eating, drinking, or conversing.
Essentially someone with social anxiety has the perpetual fear that they are being closely observed by others and that those observations are negative.
Just like the phobias above, this leads the individual to avoid those situations as much as possible, and the fear is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the situation.
Sounds almost identical to the phobias right?
In fact, social anxiety is also called social phobia.
Once again, we have a situation where the person experiencing the anxiety interprets external events as far more threatening than they actually are.
So, does that mean the same approach should be taken with social anxiety as with specific phobias?
Once again, willing exposure to the fearful thing itself makes overcoming anxiety possible and can completely eliminate the fear response.
Also, once again, this is best accomplished by working with a professional mental health care provider to ensure the exposures are done properly and to the degree, the individual is ready and willing.
Okay, okay, so that might feel like a sleight-of-hand trick because it turns out social anxiety was once classified as a phobia so the overlaps are numerous.
But what about generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by the experience of excessive worry that is difficult to control in conjunction with symptoms such as muscle tension, lack of focus, irritability, easily fatigued, feeling keyed up or on edge, and sleep disturbances.
In addition, this experience is caused by multiple different events or activities.
This is quite a bit different than our phobias.
Whereas phobias are localized to a single event or object, GAD is triggered by several different areas of life and it can be difficult to identify specific triggers.
With that in mind, will exposure work for GAD as it does for phobias?
The answer is, yes!
Why does exposure work for all these different types of anxiety, including the anxiety that occurs from several different sources?
What is the commonality that makes exposure effective?
The answer is mindfulness.
Think about it like this, when you willingly confront things that are scary, what are you doing?
You are confronting your expectations with reality, and reality will always win.
Because anxiety, all anxiety is prefaced with the understanding that the fear is disproportionate to the actual threat, that means when you encounter the threat you will be forced to acknowledge that there is, in fact, no threat at all.
There you have it.
Though anxiety expresses itself in many different ways, at the core is a misjudgment of the actual threat compared to the perceived threat.
The most effective way of overcoming anxiety is to face it directly through exposure and force your perception to come face-to-face with reality.
This is a difficult task to take on by yourself and it is always best practice to seek the assistance of a trained mental health care provider.
Anxiety can make your life such a burden, but that burden can be let go of.
If you struggle with anxiety of any kind, contact a professional and start taking your life back.
Overcoming anxiety is a real possibility if you give yourself the chance.
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It is my primary goal as a counselor to create a space for every individual to explore their lives and find the opportunities that may be lurking where it is most difficult to look. Through a unique therapeutic approach that combines Jungian symbology/dream-work with Narrative and Existential explorations, I will help you re-discover who you are. It is my mission to help you navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety, faith-based and spiritual concerns, as well as how to re-establish a connection with what is most important to you.
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