Anxiety & Trauma
Treatment for Anxiety & Trauma in Kalamazoo
Why I Group Them Together
You may be wondering why I would group anxiety and trauma together as a specialty related to counseling I offer for those in the Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. I did this because, similar to how I describe addiction and substance abuse, there are very few people who are not touched by trauma, either based on their experiences, those of a loved one, or even secondary trauma observed through the waves of horrible things covered on the news. Anxiety and trauma often co-exist together. However, “trauma” doesn’t have to be something horrible like assault, murder, or loss. Trauma can be a child being scared when her parents are gone and she experiences a thunderstorm for the first time in her life. As I mention elsewhere, we store memories, traumas, and powerful emotions in our cells. This is what creates anxiety.
In one sense, anxiety is a completely normal response to stress. It is survival. Evolutionarily speaking, if we come across a lion, our brain uses adrenaline to cause us to decide whether to fight or flee for our life. If you have ever heard of this “fight or flight” response, you may be interested to know that experts have recently added a third response during moments of anxiety – “freeze”. We can think of this “freeze” state as representing trauma.
When people encounter stress, our body goes into a state of anxiety, deciding whether to fight or flee, and freezing if we can’t manage the anxiety due to the stress of that moment. The problem is that, for those with anxiety, whether it is a general sense of anxiety they have felt since they were young as they’ve always been “worriers” or having severe panic attacks, the brain’s stress response can’t turn off. For those with anxiety, their bodes are in a constant state of anxiety that they can’t simply shut off. It becomes a way of life. Often this contributes to a weakened immune system strength or adrenal fatigue as the body can only be on constant high alert for so long.
What is Anxiety?
“Anxiety” is actually a class of symptoms. Although the official book used to diagnose mental health disorders, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), rearranges the classification of such symptoms with every update, it’s easiest to view anxiety as 4 different types:
- Generalized Anxiety – These are your general “worriers” that don’t worry about anything in particular but just worry about everything.
- Social Anxiety – These are the people who identify as “shy” or “painfully shy”. Often thoughts that prevent them from socializing or being comfortable with it are others-focused. So, they may say “What will others think of me?”, “What if I fall down?”, “I know they think I’m stupid”.
- Obsessive Compulsive Anxiety – This is a kind of anxiety that people often don’t understand. There are jokes made in popular media about characters who say things like “I have to turn the light on and off 15 times or my family will die”. For those dealing with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it is not something to joke about. It can rob people of life as they know it. This kind if anxiety certainly requires treatment to manage as it takes the shape of someone having anxiety when someone doesn’t complete a specific task. The task can be something like turning on and off a light switch, but it may also be measuring food quantities, counting, repeating a phrase, cleaning, or even compulsive sexual behaviors.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This is best known for affecting those who have been in the armed forces. (Thank you for your service, by the way!) This kind of anxiety can often be so severe that it’s delusional. A car backfires, someone jumps a mile. Someone who looks like their abuser from the back scares a person so much they can’t stay in the store. This kind of anxiety can be very intense and is directly related to trauma.
Regardless of which of the kinds of anxiety is present, it will largely feel the same to people. Anxiety is a tight chest, shaking sweating, flushing, wanting to run, difficulty paying attention, chest pains, “feeling like you’re going to die”, racing thoughts, and restlessness, to name a few. Here’s another reason why I list anxiety and trauma together – they feel the same. Trauma is simply a manifestation of anxiety following a traumatic event. And, our team has much experience helping people in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan recover from symptoms of anxiety and/or trauma.
How to Manage Anxiety
Because the brains of those with anxiety (or even those who have experienced trauma and have symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) function differently than the average brain, treatment for anxiety is important to identify “thinking errors” (see below), teaching coping skills, or exploring ways to manage stress and self-soothe. Someone who has anxiety can’t simply “just calm down” or “stop worrying”. Worrying and being on high alert is how they are used to living their life, even if they don’t want to. Often a major source of frustration for those with anxiety is that they don’t even understand why they are anxious.
Understanding “Thinking Errors”
For those dealing with anxiety, or even depression, such symptoms are characterized by having “thinking errors” (also called “thought distortions” or “cognitive distortions”). Some examples of thinking errors are the following.
- All-or-nothing Thinking – “If I don’t get that job, I’m a failure.”
- Mind-reading – “Did you see the way he looked at me? He thinks I’m crazy.”
- Minimization or Maximization – “I only got through that the last time without having a panic attack because I was just having a good day.”
- Telling the Future – “I know if I go to that event, no one will talk to me anyway.”
To treat anxiety, we have to understand how our anxiety works. So, I use this Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach, in addition to such evidenced-based interventions as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT/”Tapping”) to help people better understand their anxiety and how to manage it. Such approach has been proven by research to be a effective treatments for anxiety.
Here’s where our strength of using a holistic approach to treating anxiety comes in again. Anxiety feeds anxiety, in the same way that fear breeds fear or stressing about being stressed creates more stress. Using mindfulness to teach people to non-judgmentally observe their anxious thoughts and feelings has yielded successful results for those looking to better manage their anxiety. When we fight anxiety, it gets bigger. So, when we stop fighting, we can learn another, healthier way to deal with it.
On my YouTube Channel (which you can link to here), I have several tools to help understand the impact of stress on the brain and learn how to manage anxiety. The channel includes illustrations to promote slowed breathing, guided imageries, and calming images that can help in moments of stress. Please feel free to browse this collection of tools or save them as favorites in order to reference them quickly during times of stress and anxiety.
For those interested in learning more on trauma, there are two books listed on our “Resources” page published by two of the leading researchers on this topic. They have been life-changing for those who are looking to better understand and heal from trauma. I highly recommend them if you are searching for updated information.