What is Anxiety?

What is Anxiety
Marian Kaplun Shapiro Psychologist Lexington, Massachusetts

Dr. Marian Shapiro is a psychologist practicing in Lexington, Massachusetts. Dr. Shapiro specializes in the treatment of health mental problems, and helps people to cope with their mental illnesses. As a psychologist, Dr. Shapiro evaluates and treats patients through a variety of methods, most typically being psychotherapy... more

Anxiety. Even the word makes you feel anxious. From the Latin anxietās, this word, and its many synonyms (worry, nervousness, upset, distress…), has described states of mind that appear to be universal. We cannot live without it – how would we cross a busy street if we were not to some degree anxious about being run over? – But we are at its mercy drumming our fingers/biting our nails in an airplane seat where we can do nothing but sit there – not controlling the weather, the equipment, or the ability of the pilot. Serious anxiety can keep people prisoner – phobias, such as agoraphobia, sentence people to house arrest, without appeal or even probation. Anxiety has probably been around since the beginning of time, and will remain so world without end. How can we tame it?

My specialty as a psychologist is post-traumatic stress disorder. As you can imagine, anxiety (panic attacks, terror, phobias) is a major component of this diagnosis. The non-pharmaceutical methods most commonly used for this life-disturbing, life-limiting symptom are meditation and hypnosis. And still better is often a combination of the two!

Meditation, in its various forms, is probably familiar to you, and is widely taught in many private and public service venues. Hypnosis is even easier to teach, and easier to learn. In fact, some people advertise their services as “hypnotists” after learning the techniques from popular books, or from weekend classes. Basically, they do learn the how – but not the when not to’s, potentially adding risk, as well as less success, to the procedure. Although there are specialists who think that about 20% of people are “unhypnotizable,” I disagree – I have never, in over 35 years, found any client who was unable to achieve the state of what is called “trance.” In my opinion, the therapist who has not succeeded has not learned alternative methods to call upon – for example, those clients who are not particularly visual, can be successful with auditory approaches. Therefore it is important to select a therapist professionally trained in medical/psychological hypnosis, by consulting the website of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis(ASCH), or the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis(SCEH).

The most experienced clinicians have reached “consultant” level; their specialties, and their geographic localities are listed on the site. The client can expect to learn this exercise, adjusted to fit their own backgrounds, talents, needs – a bespoke process, so to speak. The process will likely be recorded, now commonly on one’s phone, for practice at home. A personally-tailored post-hypnotic suggestion can be added to address particular situations, and a short preventive method for panic attacks is easily mastered. All of this in 2-6 sessions, usually (the first session is for evaluation). What a bargain! And, in addition, you have learned a technique that is the basis for add-on modules that can help in other areas of life, such as for pain reduction, anesthesia, sports performance enhancement, headache, nausea during chemo, writing block; childbirth….No, hypnosis is not magic. It will not change your hair color, nor should you forego your scheduled surgery for appendicitis. But your professional hypnosis specialist, who may be a psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker, nurse practitioner, or physician can tell you which options are most realistic and appropriate for your needs and concerns.

If you are interested, you can find articles at these websites which will explain the physiology of anxiety and panic, and the effect of hypnosis and meditation on these body responses. Have hope – you can be helped!