Interventions to Manage Anxiety, Part 6: Resolving the Roots
As mentioned before, a comprehensive treatment plan is the essential component to organizing interventions to manage anxiety. This treatment plan would include two distinct objectives:
First, gather the tools necessary to detach and calm the mind and body. Second, explore, untangle, and resolve the underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Anxiety is not the root of the problem. It is a symptom that the mind and body are using to signal that there is something wrong. Once we have built our tool kit of detachment and calming exercises, then we have the resources available to begin tackling what is causing the anxious symptoms.
In order to begin to understand what our root causes are, we have to take a peek into the brain’s master filing system. The brain, throughout the day, is consistently filing the events happening to and around us. Each “event” will stir up thoughts about what is happening, how it’s happening, why it’s happening and who is involved. It will also stir up feelings about these different components. And underneath the thoughts and feelings, it will formulate a belief (or a conclusion) about ourselves, others and the world around us.
For example, let’s pick a daily occurance that we may not have given a lot of thought to, such as what was it like coming home from school growing up?
If coming home from school every day involved not knowing what to expect, then we might experience the following:
- Emotions: concern, anxiousness, alarm, uncertainty
- Thoughts: I wonder if they will be in a good mood today. Why can’t my family be like Joey’s family? Will I be able to get my form signed for my field trip?
- Belief: No matter what I do, my environment does not allow me to be calm or to know for sure that my needs will get met. I am powerless.
Alternatively, if coming home from school every day involved relaxation and fun, then we might experience the following:
- Emotions: anticipation, security, enjoyment
- Thoughts: I can’t wait to tell them what happened at lunch. Did mom make cookies today? I wonder if I can hurry my homework, so I can go out and play.
- Belief: I have a place where I can rest with people who care about me and meet my needs. I can expect consistency in my life. I am powerful.
Now of course, we are not having this conversation consciously. Most often this entire process happens so quickly we aren’t even aware it has happened. Subconsciously though, our beliefs become file folders in the brain’s filing system. Over time, our files will become thick with events that support the underlying beliefs, both positive and negative. This is how you can be successful at work and home and simultaneously have negative thoughts that you are not successful.
I like to call this “evidence.” No matter what logically or realistically defines a certain aspect of our life, there are moments when there are memories reminding us of the negative beliefs we have pushed deep down inside. This evidence - our past stress - actually stores physically in the body.
Over time, the stress that we have stored begins to influence our confidence, our interactions, our decisions, and our perceptions of what is going on in the world around us. This stress is tucked away and oftentimes we don’t even really remember it, but it's secretly calling the shots, such as panic attacks and anxious symptoms.
Cleaning out these files of negative beliefs that have been compiled in our memories allows us to remove the stress stored in our bodies and dissolve their signals of anxiety!
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the many effective ways to address the root causes of our anxious symptoms. Approximately 20 controlled studies with patients experiencing PTSD have consistently found the effective decrease/elimination of symptoms for the majority of patients (emdria.org). For more information about EMDR, click here.
We do not have to be content with symptom management. We have the tools through comprehensive treatment to not only address the symptoms, but also heal.