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Anxiety disorder assessment and therapy techniques

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Anxiety disorder assessment and therapy techniques

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Anxiety may seem like a catch-all buzzword in mental health conversations. The challenge is that symptoms of anxiety (worry, stress) are a normal part of everyday life. Anxiety is like an alarm bell that helps us pay attention to situations that might be putting us in mental or physical danger. 

It’s still worthwhile speaking to a therapist to talk through any of those daily challenges and to build strong coping skills. 

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety can be characterized by feelings of fear, worry, and nervousness. If these feelings are happening to an extent we start to avoid regular life situations because we always anticipate future concerns, it may be more serious. An anxiety disorder is characterized by significant disruptions to someone’s social life, work, or day-to-day life for an extended period of time—affecting most of your days for at least six months.

Recent data show one in 12 Canadians will suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at some point in their lives and some studies indicate that the prevalence of anxiety and related disorders could be closer to 30% of the population. Anxiety is also statistically diagnosed more in women than men. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder include general feelings of restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and frequent fatigue. These symptoms are outcomes of anxiety acting as that “alarm bell”—humans go into a fight, flight or freeze mode when we sense danger. When we are in a state of perceived danger constantly, it wears down on our energy levels and we run out of cognitive and physical stamina to cope. 

Other signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive and ongoing worry
  • Constantly feeling like you are absolutely certain something will go wrong
  • Sleep disruption
  • Chronic muscle tension or other physical sensations (shaking)
  • Life avoidance or regular routine disruptions
  • Over preparing and requiring constant reassurance

Assessment

A therapist will usually start by asking various questions to identify present and ongoing symptoms for anxiety.

They may ask questions about your past, your childhood, and recent life events to determine if your symptoms are tied to specific traumas. They will look for other connections, such as family mental health history, substance use or abuse, physical injury or medical conditions, or other lifestyle habits (even caffeine intake) that may contribute to current and ongoing feelings of anxiety. 

There are many types of anxiety disorders, so these pieces of evidence will help the therapist determine if you are suffering from a GAD, social anxiety, health anxiety, agoraphobia, panic, or others. 

Treatment

Anxiety disorders are often present in combination with another mental health condition or other health concerns that can be addressed through treatment. Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has shown to be most effective for anxiety treatment. 

CBT is about developing new thought patterns to build better behaviours and improve our emotional responses to life’s challenges. By understanding when and why negative thought patterns are occuring, we can overturn them completely or learn techniques to manage our emotional responses in a healthier way.

Anxiety might be a symptom of another condition, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, so your therapist might use a combination of treatment techniques.

Other types of therapies and modalities commonly used for anxiety and related conditions include:

Incorporating a few minutes of something mindful into your daily routine (stretching, breathing, having a bath), or practices like meditation or exercise can also help alleviate stress and encourage your body and mind to relax. 

Find therapists that specialize in therapy for anxiety on First Session.

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