Anxiety is the most common problem affecting Australians’ mental health – it’s the equivalent of the common cold for the mind, but does much more damage. If you’ve suffered from anxiety then you know that it’s an experience of often worrying about something(s), being in a state of fear/dread, and having a racing heart or shaky feeling in the body. But anxiety is a beast triggered by many different things, and the first step in getting the right online help for anxiety is identifying your type of anxiety.
The kinds of anxiety problems that online counselling can help with includes social anxiety, performance anxiety, phobias, and many more. If you suffer from social anxiety you may fear rejection or feel that people are judging or scrutinizing you, while if you suffer from performance anxiety you may feel anxious about not meeting some standard, which could include social performance, but also includes things such as sporting, academic, or professional areas of your life. Lastly, if you suffer from a phobia you probably experience a huge surge of anxiety around something you ‘intellectually’ know is safe: spiders, old furniture, or peanut butter on the top of your mouth.
The impact of having a problem with anxiety across any of these areas – or others – can be devastating to people’s lives. Some people end up feeling exhausted by having to always navigate the “danger” of people judging them (i.e., in social anxiety), or the fear that they’re falling short of some performance standard (e.g., being smart/competent). Or, in the case of phobias, people may experience terrifying levels of dread as they’re confronted with whatever triggers them. It’ll come as no surprise that a common way individuals cope with anxiety is to keep away and avoid their triggers, or procrastinate, and slowly experience their lives and worlds shrinking away. And the more our worlds shrink, the more our anxiety grows and less we feel we can cope.
What keeps problems with anxiety going?
But here’s the million dollar question we get asked repeatedly in online therapy: why doesn’t your anxiety fade away? How come you don’t just “get over it”? Well, the secret to overcoming your problems with anxiety relates to how you and others naturally respond to anxiety: either avoidance or through using some sort of “crutch” which in psychobabble-talk is called a safety behaviour. Understanding why avoidance keeps your anxiety going and growing is more obvious – the less you face the thing that scares you, the less you feel you’re able to deal with it in the future. The man who doesn’t socialise because of his social anxiety, for example, never learns that he can actually cope and never develops the skills and confidence to navigate social situations in the future. He stays afraid.
Safety behaviours, on the other hand, keep people anxious in a slightly different way. Take social anxiety again, there are many ways people will use a whole range of “crutches” to deal with this anxiety. Some might only socialise while having a few drinks, while others feel they have to be “funny” or “prepare” in certain ways before going into social situations e.g., thinking about topics to talk about etc. Unfortunately, the message that people give themselves by using these safety behaviours is “I’m ONLY safe so long as I’m drinking, funny, prepared, or [insert any kind of behaviour here]”. The result: they never learn that they’re safe just being there without any of these tools and that they would be able to handle it without needing to worry or prepare themselves so much.
What’s the secret to overcoming many kinds of anxiety problems?
The treatment for overcoming most problems with anxiety often comes down to two things: reducing avoidance and dropping our safety behaviours over time—in other words, stretching our comfort zones. A person who has been avoiding spending time with people needs to do more of this slowly over time; the person who drinks to socialise needs to reduce the use of this crutch; the person who prepares for socialising by rehearsing needs to practice showing up unprepared; and the person who always needs to be funny or [insert some desirable behaviour here] needs to practice dropping this and being more themselves. All of these strategies make us realise that we have been overestimating the ‘threat’ and underestimating our ability to cope. We become more confident.
How can Online Psychologists Australia help?
Online counselling with our psychologists takes the principles discussed above, and others, and helps people to work out effective plans for overcoming their anxiety. This can involve identifying the core underlying beliefs that are a part of the anxiety, where the anxiety comes from, and, of course, how to start taking small practical steps to overcome the anxiety. Because our team of online psychologists have been trained in treating anxiety disorders, we also help many people overcome other problems with like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, phobias, Panic Disorder and others. So if you’d like to speak with a psychologist who is matched to your needs contact Online Psychologists Australia today.