Anxiety is one of the most common reasons why people seek mental health treatment. Fortunately, anxiety is one of the most treatable psychological disorders, and therapeutic interventions for anxiety have a strong research base. In a recent review article in Biological Psychology, Dr. Graham Davey and colleagues reviewed more than 50 studies on anxiety to better understand what causes and perpetuates excessive worrying. Decades of research have shown that anxiety is caused by both genetic and environmental factors, such as how you learned to cope with stress as a child. Through therapy, individuals can learn about the underlying risk factors for anxiety, as well as the cognitive and emotional factors that perpetuate it.
According to Davey, individuals with anxiety often interpret neutral situations as being dangerous or threatening. For example, if your spouse is late getting home, you may assume that she has been in a car accident rather than that she got caught up at work. Through therapy, you can learn to recognize these automatic assumptions and pay more attention to positive aspects of situations. A therapist can help you practice coming up with alternatives to the worst-case scenario.
Davey’s review identifies one of the more intractable factors that can perpetuate anxious thinking, which is the commonly-held belief that worrying can be useful. Many people believe that worrying can help prepare them for bad outcomes and even prevent bad things from happening. That is, you may be unable to stop worrying about a particular event until you have considered every possible “what if” scenario. To counteract this tendency, a therapist can help you learn to limit worrying. For example, you can schedule 10 minutes of “worry time” and allow yourself to worry as much as possible until time is up and you do something else.
Persistent worrying often causes distress, and many people suffering from anxiety also experience low moods. Activities such as exercising and doing things you enjoy can both improve your mood and reduce worrying. Mindfulness and meditation also help alleviate distress and worry.
Davey’s research review highlights that, although anxiety is debilitating and distressing, there are many research-based interventions that can help. If you would like to make an appointment for an initial consultation with a therapist, contact us at 301-652-5550.