You will never stop having anxiety and that is not a problem

“I want to stop feeling anxious, are you going to take my anxiety away?” This phrase is one of the most heard in therapy. And it is not surprising, because it is one of the most uncomfortable emotions that can be felt.

Stop experiencing lack of control and avoid certain situations, realize that we can do the things that are now scary… These are the reasons why people want to get rid of anxiety.

Their symptoms are the main problem, since they can even prevent them from performing the most daily tasks. They want to make sure that they will not feel those sensations again and that they will be able to live life calmly forever.

What do we call anxiety?

We have already said that anxiety is an emotion, but it can also be defined as a response to a stimulus. It has a meaning and is activated with a purpose; it is productive and useful.

It is made up of a set of physiological reactions that are intended for survival: increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, tremor, and gastrointestinal disturbances. In summary, the person feels the agitation typical of a dangerous situation.

Why is this happening? When the brain detects that we are in a dangerous situation, a series of changes are launched, mainly in the amygdala and other neural systems such as the septohippocampal system and the hypothalamus, which help to respond in the best possible way and increase the probability of survive.

This is what we call the fight or flight response. This reaction, despite being acute and intense, does not have any negative effects on health if it occurs sporadically. However, some studies suggest that if it lasts over time, it could become a problem, especially for cardiovascular health.

What happens when someone comes to therapy for anxiety?

When a person goes to a psychological consultation and their level of anxiety is evaluated, the vast majority of the time there is no situation that justifies it.

In fact, when the affected person says “I want to stop feeling anxiety”, they mean that it is too acute and too frequent for what is happening at that moment. What you really need is to stop ruminating, that is, stop dwelling on certain ideas or memories that generate that tension.

No one would want to stop responding to a truly life-threatening situation, if that were possible. What we want is not to feel anxiety as a consequence of negative thoughts, which can be a review of something that has already happened or the anticipation of a future that worries us.

See the following examples:

“And if I don’t get a place in the oppositions?”

“What I have said surely they have thought was nonsense”

“And if something goes wrong with my delivery?”

“I feel that something bad is going to happen, although I don’t know what it is”

“That memory will haunt me all my life”

“And if we have an accident?”

Much of our work as psychotherapists lies in teaching how to manage anxiety and make it stop appearing in those moments when it is not necessary for survival.

So, can you stop feeling anxious?

Yes but no.

You can stop experimenting at times when it is not justified. Therapy helps to learn to manage the discomfort caused by these thoughts and to face situations that cause fear.

But you will not be able to suppress anxiety. It is not possible (or desirable) for this natural survival mechanism to be deactivated. So the person will continue to feel it when something scares or worries him, although he will know how to manage it so that it is not too acute in relation to the situation.

We could say that it is about losing the fear of fear. This is: the idea of ​​being able to feel anxiety causes anxiety. And therapy teaches to know it, manage it and control it when it is not adaptive and to lose fear of it when it is.

And what exactly does therapy consist of?

The ideal is to make an adequate evaluation of the types of thoughts that are causing this discomfort and if the person who comes to the consultation is avoiding situations to alleviate it. From there, an intervention adapted to each individual is developed, which is usually the result of the combination of cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy and third generation therapies.

Broadly speaking, they could be defined as follows:

  • cognitive therapy it focuses on working from the thoughts that make us suffer; evaluate them, identify their root and the negative effect they have on mood to finally formulate them in a more objective way.

  • behavioral therapy it works together with the previous one so that, once those negative thoughts have lost strength, we can face the situations that we have been avoiding. The set of both is the cognitive-behavioral model.

  • third generation therapies, also called contextual, are an umbrella that covers different therapies. They have in common that they are based on the two already mentioned, but they put the therapeutic focus not so much on reducing the symptoms, but on improving the quality of life. It is about understanding feelings like the one addressed in this article or an apparently simple concept such as that well-being does not consist of something that can be achieved and maintained forever.

With therapy we can feel that we control anxiety, that we can face the situation that frightens us. We will never stop feeling it when those things are scary for a real and objective reason. Because sometimes, when it’s right and adaptive, anxiety points us where we shouldn’t be.

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