Anyone who has experienced a panic attack will know just how distressing an experience it can be. Panic attacks can be described as the sudden onset of intense fear and discomfort. People with Panic disorder experience recurrent and unexpected episodes of intense fear which involve unpleasant physical symptoms. These symptoms can include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, feeling nauseous, feeling faint or dizzy, heart palpitations, sweating and shaking. These symptoms can then be misinterpreted and lead to other worries including fear of losing control, fear of having a heart attack or fear of going “crazy”. Worrying about having further panic attacks and not being able to escape can lead to avoidance of certain places, situations or environments such as crowded places, public transport, driving, or some social situations.
While worrying can be a normal aspect of dealing with stress or challenging situations, worrying excessively and persistently can be debilitating and exhausting! Excessive worry, or Generalised Anxiety Disorder, is a form of anxiety where there is a tendency to ruminate or worry excessively about negative outcomes and worst case scenarios. Themes of worry can include: worry about health or contracting an illness; worry about what other people think / negative social judgment; being late; finances; or performance. Other symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder include difficulty with concentration and attention, sleep disturbance, irritability and restlessness, finding it hard to relax or wind down and somatic symptoms such as muscle tension, stomachaches or headaches.
This type of anxiety refers to the experience of persistently worrying that there may be a threat to your health, including having or developing a serious condition or illness. These thoughts about potential illness or harm consequently trigger a distressing anxiety response. Some of the more common health related fears include having or developing cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, contracting blood-borne diseases such as HIV, or having a heart attack. From time to time, we all have moments of worrying about our health. While these milder worries about health can be normal, health concerns can become a problem when they: 1) are excessive, 2) cause significant distress or life interference, 3) are persistent despite reassurance from doctors or negative test results, 4) are disproportionate to the realistic likelihood of having a serious medical problem, 5) lead to unhelpful behaviours such as excessive checking, excessive reassurance seeking from doctors, family or friends or by reading about or researching symptoms, or alternatively 6) avoidance behaviours such as refusal to read health related information or attend doctors check up’s.
Fears and anxieties can sometimes be very specific to a particular object, place or situation, such as fear of animals, injections, small spaces, medical/dental procedures, heights or confined spaces. When confronted by these triggers, people can become highly distressed and subsequent avoidance of these situations or objects can develop. These avoidances can lead to life interference or impairment in a person’s daily life.
It’s natural to feel a degree of discomfort, nervousness or shyness in some social situations. However, some people find themselves so persistently fearful and distressed when interacting socially or when having to perform socially (such as in job interviews or public speaking) that it interferes in their life. Also referred to as Social Phobia, people suffering from this type of anxiety are afraid of negative judgment and evaluation from others. They worry about looking foolish, giving off a bad impression, going blank mid-way in conversation, being embarrassed or being mocked or laughed at. Physical symptoms of social anxiety can include shaking or trembling, feeling hot, feeling nauseous or faint, redness in the face, dry mouth, increased heart rate or shallow breathing. Due to distress caused by the anxiety, people may avoid social situations or interacting with others.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
This type of anxiety refers to two components. One component of OCD is the experience of persistent obsessions. Obsessions are recurrent thoughts, images or urges that are intrusive, unwanted and distressing. For example, thoughts about contamination or harming others. The other component of OCD is the compulsions – repetitive behaviours that are performed in response to obsessions. For example, repeating rituals of cleaning, ordering or checking. Usually people engage in the compulsion in order to reduce anxious feelings or discomfort caused by the obsession, or in order to prevent bad things from happening. Some people experience only the thought component of OCD, while others engage in the ritualistic behaviour as well. OCD can cause significant distress and interference in daily functioning.
Feeling depressed can be a normal reaction to situations involving stress, grief, or challenging life adjustments. For some people however, feeling depressed is more than just a temporary response to life stress and can start to take over one’s life. Depression can be experienced in different ways. A wide range of symptoms can be experienced and these can include: feeling sad, hopeless, gloomy, or irritable; inability to experience joy or pleasure; crying often; difficulty with making decisions; poorer than usual memory or concentration; changes in appetite; negative thinking; lack of energy or motivation; feelings of guilt or self-blame; sleep disturbances. While depression is the most commonly experienced mood disorder, other problems with mood include Bipolar Disorder and Dysthymia.
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that involves alternating periods of depression and mania, i.e. an elevated mood or a “high” feeling. Those suffering from Bipolar Disorder often feel they live their life on a rollercoaster, with sudden up's and down’s in mood. When having a depressed episode, people can become profoundly depressed and feel helpless. When having a “high”, people can become overly excited, do not get adequate sleep, and can engage in impulsive, risky or reckless behaviours. Therapy can help those suffering from Bipolar Disorder to help regulate their mood more effectively and become more familiar with identifying early warning signs for depressed or manic phases.
Compulsive or Unwanted Behaviours
Therapy can help individuals who experience distress and impairment caused by various compulsive behaviours. Such behaviours can include skin picking and hair-pulling (trichotillomania), or strong impulses to eat, use alcohol or other substances. These concerns are usually a result of problems with impulse control, where people find it hard to resist urges or impulses to engage in potentially harmful patterns of behaviour. Therapy can help those wanting to reduce these unhelpful behaviours and establish more healthy responses to the urges.
Stress itself is a natural, necessary and often unavoidable reaction to life events. Problems can arise when stress is felt excessively and frequently, and when responses to stress become unhelpful. Responses to stress can become unhelpful when the reaction seems exaggerated, or is extended over a long period of time, subsequently making one prone to feeling irritable, low or anxious. Identifying triggers for stress and improving emotional and behavioural responses to stress can go a long way in better managing life's hurdles.
Poor Self –Image
Sometimes the source of people’s unhappiness or anxiety can be caused by problems with poor self-image. Self-image refers to the view one has of themselves, or the relationship one has with themselves. If this view of self is negative, it can lead to problems with anxiety, relationships, mood and overall life satisfaction. One can gain great benefit from working on improving issues related to low self-worth, feeling undeserving, low self-esteem, low confidence, and even concerns about body image.
Trauma in early life can have devastating emotional, social, and relational consequences for later life. It contributes to making a person less resilient in the face of stressful life events later in life. Exposure to a traumatic event more recently (such as natural disasters, military combat, personal tragedy, accidents, assault or violence) can lead to an increased risk for developing trauma-related anxiety and stress, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Relationship / Interpersonal Problems
The ability to connect and relate meaningfully with others in a universal human need. It therefore makes sense that when our relationships are not healthy, or when it’s difficult to connect with others, our need for connectivity and intimacy is not met. Such relational or interpersonal problems can have wide-reaching negative emotional, psychological and social effects. In therapy, exploring unhelpful patterns of relating as well as addressing themes such as trust, feelings of rejection, communication, and problems with intimacy can be useful in improving relationship satisfaction.
Motivational Problems / Life Direction
At certain times in life, it can feel as though we are at a cross road, unsure of which direction to head in, whether that be regarding work, relationships, study, or general pursuit of values . This confusion can sometimes lead to a lack of drive or motivation to pursue any path at all and a feeling of “stuckness” can ensue. Related features of this problem can also include indecision, lack of clarity about needs and wants, persistent self-doubt, procrastination and avoidance.
Treatment is offered for returning servicemen and servicewomen, and veterans referred under DVA. Help is also offered for clients looking for psychology services under Works Compensation.