Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
CE for Psychologist, Social Worker, Counselor, & MFT!!
Have you found, like I, that each client experiences anxiety in different levels of intensity? Some start at a high level of anxiety which slowly decreases over a few hours. Other clients’ anxiety, however, shoots up in intensity in a very short period of time.
In this section, we will examine three gradations, or successive stages, of anxiety intensity. These three gradations are spontaneous anxiety; situational anxiety; and anticipatory anxiety.
Three Stages of Anxiety Intensity
♦ Stage # 1 - Spontaneous Anxiety
One client, Stan, suffered from spontaneous anxiety or panic. Stan described the feeling as "overwhelming." He stated, "I can’t ever remember being as frightened." Stan had been washing up before bed when it happened. All of a sudden, he felt engulfed by a feeling of dread and impending doom. The sudden rush of anxiety Stan described as "waves that would not stop beating against the shore." As you can see from the suddenness of the panic, Stan was suffering from spontaneous anxiety. Think of your anxious client. Does he or she experience unpredictable waves of anxiety?
♦ Technique: Stop and Relax
Throughout the section, I will be presenting many different breathing techniques that my panic disorder clients have found helpful in conjunction with therapy. When I give an exercise to a client, I generally record it onto a tape so that the client may have it whenever they wish and can play the tape while performing the exercise. You might consider this with some of your panic disorder clients as well.
♦ Stage # 2 - Situational Anxiety
Also, the symptoms of situational anxiety are the same as spontaneous anxiety, except that phobic anxiety never reaches the intensity of spontaneous anxiety. An example of a trigger for situational anxiety would be public speaking. Many people experience this fear. In fact, it is one of the most common phobias. Lori, a marketing director at a company, stated, "I know that when people speak in public, they experience butterflies in their stomach, but how come my butterflies always feel like elephants?"
When Lori said that, she was very much afraid of how bad she would feel when she had to get up and speak. Lori thought that all of her physical symptoms were danger signals. She stated that she thought her symptoms were warning signs that she should avoid any experience that would bring this on.
♦ Stage # 3 - Anticipatory Anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety occurs when the client is dreading a certain event for which they already hold a pre-existing phobia. Slowly, the feelings of anxiety build until they hit the breaking point and the client nearly loses control of all faculties. After such a climax, the feelings quickly dissipate. Katie held a deep instilled fear of dogs since she was four. She would cross roads and would not visit friends who had dogs. Katie said that once she hit that peak point, she would begin to cry and cower.
In our first session together, I brought in a very small, non-threatening dog. I patted the dog and encouraged Katie to follow suit. At first she was terrified, and backed away. But as her anxiety disappeared, she began to pet the dog. As you can see, to treat this type of simple phobia, gradual exposure to the trigger can reduce the feelings of anxiety associated with it.
In this section, we discussed three gradations of anxiety intensity, which were spontaneous anxiety; situational anxiety; and anticipatory anxiety.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References: