I really enjoyed this post by Meghan Harbin, an individual and family therapist in Georgia, USA, on alternative ways we can choose to react to our thoughts.
- A constant feeling of being ‘on edge’ or ‘keyed up’ which manifests as irritability and jumpiness
- Muscular tension
- Continual fatigue
- A tendency for the mind to ‘go blank’ and a lack of concentration
- Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Other symptoms can also arise, such as impatience, feeling over-sensitive and reactive, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive urination, shallow, rapid breathing, palpitations, feeling faint, and experiencing a sense of dread or panic.
On a cognitive level, people with GAD have a tendency to ‘catastrophize’ and may find that they are expecting the worst possible scenario to emerge from situations. Confidence in problem-solving can take a dive, and decision-making can become difficult. They may also find themselves feeling hyper-alert to threatening stimuli and interpreting ambiguous situations as threatening.
Psychotherapy for GAD
The psychotherapist Carl Rogers had huge faith in the human ability to grow ‘towards the light’ in even the most difficult of circumstances. He recognized that while some people are lucky enough to have the love and support that allows them to grow up easily, others grow in an environment that tests them at every turn. They learn to do whatever it takes to survive. Later on, it may be that the very things that helped them survive (from telling ‘white lies’ to creating entire ‘public’ selves or dissociating from themselves) are the things that come to cause them pain and suffering as an adult. The brilliantly creative tools they initially invented to survive, that served them so well, may still be operating when they are no longer needed and now be causing disruption, confusion and pain. This is not wrong – it is simply the human condition. We keep using things that work, often long after they have stopped working.
Therapy is one way of exploring the tools we have used to survive and see if there are others that could now be used to find greater happiness. To find a way of seeing the difference between then and now, so that ‘now’ can be approached differently. To access new information that we missed then and are still missing now, which we need to make sense of life and live it to the full. To stop living with the ‘spectacles’ of the past and become more open to the present – to everyone and everything around us today, with greater clarity and hope. It’s a way of changing expectations about what things ‘mean’ and ‘what’s going to happen next’. Of finding out that sometimes we’re wrong – and that that’s a good thing (because it’s what we’re not seeing, and don’t know, that contains all the possibility and light). It’s a way of renegotiating the world, and finding it’s not quite what we thought (but quite a bit better). It’s one way of finding a new direction and a different path.
Even if our pasts make us blind to some of the people and things around us – especially real opportunities and genuine love – we can find a way to take off the blindfold and see differently. And we can dare to be the people that we truly are. Rogers called this ‘the actualizing tendency’ and this is how he expressed his faith in every human being:
“The actualizing tendency can, of course, be thwarted or warped, but it cannot be destroyed without destroying the organism. I remember that in my boyhood, the bin in which we stored our winter’s supply of potatoes was in the basement, several feet below a small window. The conditions were unfavorable, but the potatoes would begin to sprout — pale, white sprouts, so unlike the healthy green shoots they sent up when planted in the soil in the spring. But these sad, spindly sprouts would grow 2 or 3 feet in length as they reached toward the distant light of the window. The sprouts were, in their bizarre, futile growth, a sort of desperate expression of the directional tendency I have been describing. They would never become plants, never mature, never fulfill their real potential. But under the most adverse circumstances, they were striving to become. Life would not give up, even if it could not flourish. In dealing with clients whose lives have been terribly warped, in working with men and women on the back wards of state hospitals, I often think of those potato sprouts. So unfavorable have been the conditions in which these people have developed that their lives often seem abnormal, twisted… yet, the directional tendency in them can be trusted. The clue to understanding their behavior is that they are striving, in the only ways that they perceive as available to them, to move toward growth, toward becoming. To healthy persons, the results may seem bizarre and futile, but they are life’s desperate attempt to become itself.”
Carl Rogers, “A Way of Being” (1980)
All of life is growth. Each of us is a work in progress. And may 2015 be a year of joyful growth for everyone.
In Spring 2014, The Huffington Post published an article on the ‘Eight signs you should see a therapist’. This sounds a little dictatorial, because no one (and certainly no newspaper!) has the right to say that someone ‘should’ see a therapist. There are no rules about seeing a therapist, and in fact one of the things people find most useful about therapy is the complete lack of ‘shoulds’ – there is no right or wrong way to do it, and no perfect person to ‘be’. The therapy hour is a unique space in that respect: this is a place where people are valued, respected, and free to talk about whatever they wish, at a pace that feels right to them, in a space that is calm and confidential.
There are many reasons that people seek help through some form of therapy. Problematic situations or difficult emotions may loom large or seem acutely pinpointed. People visiting a therapist may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, or worried about feeling nothing at all. They may be wrestling with relationship problems, looking for ways to cope with chronic pain or simply feeling irretrievably ‘stuck’ in a painful place,for reasons known or unknown.
As author Scott Peck said, way back in 1978, ‘Life is difficult’, and sometimes our coping methods and support systems aren’t able to carry us through. When daily life becomes a struggle, sometimes therapy can help.
And those ‘eight signs’? They’re here, along with my suggestions of what someone might wish for in their place:
- You have unexplained and recurrent headaches, stomach-aches or a rundown immune system (you want to feel physically better)
- You’re using a substance to cope (you want to be able to feel good without self-medicating)
- You’re getting bad feedback at work (you want to achieve more and feel good about yourself at work)
- You feel disconnected from previously beloved activities (you want to feel joy as you go about your life)
- Your relationships are strained (you want your relationships to be rich and fulfilling)
- You’ve suffered a trauma and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it (you want to find a way to deal with a past event so that you feel peaceful and easy once more)
- Everything you feel is intense (you want more balance in your life)
- Your friends have told you they’re concerned (you want time and a place to work things out for yourself)
These are all good reasons for considering therapy. As are these:
- The wish to find a way to forgive others, or yourself
- The desire to stop feeling like you’re on ‘autopilot’
- The wish to turn an ok marriage into a great one
- The desire to find a different way of parenting
- The desire to find out what you really want from life
Therapy isn’t a cure-all, but it is a safe place to work out what’s happening now, where you’ve been, where you’re going, and where you want to go. In your own time.
Here’s that Huff Post article in full:
Sarah Tomley is a counsellor working in Suffolk, UK, at Insight Counselling Ipswich.