When stress affects various aspects of our life so much that we are not functional and lasts for a long time, so-called chronic stress, then it is called an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorder is a danger signal emitted by the body, a signal to pay attention to our mental health. Art therapy can help.
The anxiety is a feeling of fear and or worry. It is normal for everyone to experience anxiety in periods of the life. The stress that is related with an upcoming medical examination or from preparing for a presentation in front of an audience at work is normal. It is however expected that such an anxiety fades after the event itself.
The generalised anxiety is a condition that describes a feeling of constant anxiety cause by common daily life activities.
The anxiety can be asymptom of many different conditions for example:
phobies such as the claustrophobia
post-traumatic stress disorder
According to the World Health Organisation about 5% of Women in Europe suffer of anxiety.
What are the common symptoms of anxiety?
A person suffering from anxiety feels worry and often irritation. The reason of these feelings is often difficult to describe with words. A person that feels anxiety, sweats and experiences a fast (and loud) heart beat. Anxiety may be affecting sleeping patterns and in some cases causes hemicrania and psychosomatic symptoms.
You may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
constant feeling of restlessness
palpitations and sweating
difficulty to concentrate
recurring feeling of fear
in many cases, anxiety disorders are also manifested by discomforts such as:
pressure or tightness in the head
chest or stomach pain
The effects of the anxiety disorder are usually visible to others. Withdrawal from professional and social life is common.
What are the benefits of Art Therapy when compared to taking medication?
Art therapy gives patients a creative toolbox that can help them recognise and modify the very reasons of their suffering. As opposed to medication art therapy is not limited to treating the symptoms by suppressing biochemical processes that take place in the brain. Instead it activates processes in both the left and the right brain hemispheres to help a person comprehend and accept the reason for their suffering.
It often happens that participants in art therapy discover abilities that they did not know they had. I have repeatedly had the experience of people without any prior creative history telling how they were impressed by their own creations during our healing work.
There are certain cases in which a medication is the best treatment, for example when there is danger for life due to a mental illness. In these cases Art Therapy or other forms of therapy may be helpful later when symptom control is in place.
How can Art Therapy help with generalised anxiety
To relieve their stress, sufferers often resort to the relaxing properties of medicinal plants or other drugs/substitutes, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes or other substances. Eating is another very common regular reaction. However, the effects of these habits are short-lived and often accompanied by negative consequences, unlike psychotherapy which can address the root causes of anxiety.
Art therapy is offered because of the use of all the senses of the person for a more meaningful and at the same time less intrusive coping technique.
During therapy, my patients often discover the cause of their anxiety in events that occurred earlier in their lives; a traumatic experience such as a separation in a family, a chronic illness, an accident or abuse in the early years. For example, the process of describing a life event on paper and discussing it with the therapist can help release feelings (fear, anger, agony) that have been repressed. Coming to terms with our past is a fundamental healing process.
Categories of anxiety disorders
It is common to feel anxious for very specific reasons, such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia. Another common cause of anxiety is serious illness or suspected illness. In these cases you know the cause of anxiety which is usually caused by just thinking about it. In other cases the cause of the anxiety is undetermined and this often causes even more worry and fear.
Below you can find a brief description of the most common anxiety disorders:
panic attacks: they can appear for no particular reason and are accompanied by sweat, rapid heart rate, tremors, chills, dizziness, numbness, headache, stomach pain, tendency to faint.
phobias, agoraphobia and claustrophobia: agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces with many people, such as a shopping center or public transport, and is often accompanied by panic attacks. Claustrophobia refers to the fear caused by, sometimes just the thought of) an enclosed space such as elevators, tunnels, public toilets, changing rooms, airplanes, etc. and is mainly accompanied by anxiety and panic attacks.
post-traumatic stress disorder: usually occurs days, weeks, months or even years after a traumatic event such as sudden death (accident or illness), assault (sexual or robbery), childbirth experience and is accompanied by isolation, guilt, anxiety, emotional numbing that can lead to depression, and sleep problems (nightmares).
social anxiety disorder: is the excessive fear (not just shyness) of social situations with strangers such as professional group meetings, social events-parties, and even telephone conversations. The fear of criticism from others is big and can be accompanied by many symptoms of panic attacks affecting many aspects of life.