Many people ask for help to overcome anxiety. These issues are widespread in the general population, both in the form of panick attacks, agoraphopia, generalized anxiety.
One of the reasons of its high prevalence is that fear, which anxiety is a declination of, is a very basic emotion and had a central role in our evolution as a species, that is, to warn us of dangers.
We will never get rid of fear, and we shouldn’t.
When its activation is unadaptive, the usefulness of anxiety decreases, because this state of threat can be activated by several situations, which one person commonly faces on a daily basis and now become difficult to manage.
Anxiety usually leads to avoidance, because of the fear of having a panick attack or that something bad could happen.
Avoidance is a common reaction to anxiety.
It’s safer to avoid a threat, we have that in our genes.
The problem here is that we already faced the threat in the past, and now we only react to its unprocessed memory.
Anxiety is often associated with depression. Usually this can be a side effect of avoidance, isolation and self criticism: one of the most common things is that the person is aware that is not currently in danger, but feels having no control over the emotional reaction.
Why is this happening?
Anxiety is almost invariably triggered by situations linked to one or more past traumatic/stressful experiences, which have never been processed properly.
This is the reason why on a rational level, the person knows that their reaction is oversized, but even knowing it, they feel they have no way out but panicking.
Lower than the cognitive and rational level in fact, the limbic system and the amygdala in particular, are hyperactivated, which is the actual cause of the symptoms unfolding:
cold sweat, tachycardia, tremors, shortness of breath, confusion and depersonalization (not feeling yourself).
These two levels, which belong to two different brain regions, are unable to communicate effectively due to unresolved trauma. They are not integrated.
Whenever a situation shares a common key with the traumatic/stressful episode in the past, anxiety shows up.
How can you “heal” from anxiety?
The most effective therapeutic way to treat anxiety is to recognize the unprocessed material, which had remained frozen in highly emotional (limbic) memory networks, and help the brain integrating those experiences into personal biography.
Anxiety cannot be suppressed and cannot be extinguished, precisely because of its very important function: to ensure the survival of our species.
For this reason, approaches based on meds are meant to be palliatives, but not true solutions, if they are not accompanied by a solid psychotherapy.
For the same reason, all approaches that do not aknowledge and solve the traumatic material stored in emotional memory networks, can only cause a mild “relieve” from the symptoms.
How does EMDR therapy for anxiety work?
EMDR therapy for anxiety begins with a complete recollection of the biography, to evaluate and identify any past traumatic/stressful event that relates to the dreaded situations in the present.
This search for episodes is different from one person to another, since some people have very clear what are the adversities they have encountered, while other may find it difficult to remember.
In both cases the therapist is prepared to help the patient bring out those memories in complete safety.
During this phase the patient receives a lot of information on the functioning of the nervous system, in particular on the autonomic nervous system and on the defenses against danger.
Understanding the connections between the normal reactions of the brain to trauma, and the development of a symptom, is a very important first step towards the integration of unresolved memories.
After this preparation phase, the reprocessing of these experiences with EMDR begins.
EMDR will stimulate the brain processing system so that stressful or traumatic memories are resolved in an adaptive (positive) way.
During this phase, changes in everyday life of the patient start, with a dramatic decrease of the symptomatology.
After working on the past, the main goal of therapy will be achieved. But still there will be present and future prongs to work on.
Reprocessing present triggers with EMDR helps to face all the remained feared situations. Since the past root of the disorder has already been eliminated, the patient will find that their ability to deal with these situations has already changed profoundly. They are not so scary anymore.
Last phase of therapy, which ensures against future relapses, focuses on future models: how the patient will address future problems and possible triggers of anxiety.
This part of EMDR therapy is very important to develop functional management strategies for the future and consider therapy really closed.
It is important to always keep in mind that when using EMDR, it is the brain itself that is healing.
Your nervous system knows exactly what to do and what it needs.
So you don’t have to actively do or change anything
Just let whatever happens, happen!