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Underlying Anxiety – The True Pain

At Free Spirit, we see anxiety as a major component of many challenges and difficulties. Not always apparent at first, anxiety can cause maladaptive behavior, avoidance, aggression, drug use, depression, and more. Here is how we see anxiety and how we found it useful to assist teens and young adults who experience it.

The process isn't easy, but it is quite necessary. Anxiety and fear tend to limit our lives as much as we let them, taking over more and more of one's life, as well as the lives of their family and surrounding community.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a heightened negative arousal in our body, denoting discomfort, agitation, and restlessness to an extent we can barely manage.

There are, broadly speaking, several kinds of anxiety:

o Innate, or organic anxiety – some of us are born more sensitive to triggers. We react more negatively to outside stimuli ("Temperament" is noticeable in the first few weeks of life), and we have a more difficult time shaking things off (can be recognized as intrusive thoughts we cannot stop).

o Trauma-based anxiety – when we experience a negative event that caused us ongoing distress, typically when we are reminded of that event in some manner.

o Attachment-based anxiety – stemming from a greater sense of insecurity and relational pain, attachment difficulties can lead to relational anxiety, triggered by close and meaningful relationships.

o Emotional anxiety – a process that is powerful and difficult to grasp, we sometimes develop debilitating fear from our own emotions, leading us to avoid and reject emotions as much as we can. This may lead to detachment, lack of interest and joy, a sense of "fakeness" and sometimes total lack of motivation.

o Existential anxiety, often referred to as a natural and somewhat healthy anxiety which, when approached well, can lead us to living fully, making the most of what we have.

It is important to understand where our anxiety comes from, as treatment can differ greatly. This said, many times we observe a combination of more than one form of anxiety and are required to gently differentiate one from the other.

How can anxiety manifest?

Anxiety can come in many faces and forms. The most common include sweaty hands, rapid heart rate and breathing, restlessness and agitation, stomachache, and feeling frozen and unable to move forward.

This said, many times anxiety underlies other symptoms and may get misdiagnosed. The most common example is attention deficit and hyperactivity. Attention is a delicate function that can be compromised easily when we get anxious, depressed, or preoccupied with something. Similarly, the agitation in anxiety can be mistaken for hyperactivity or impulsivity.

Anxiety can be specific to one trigger, as in social anxiety, and then lead to avoidance, isolation, school refusal, and even panic attacks.

Anxiety can also lead people to seek relief in the form of drugs and alcohol, sometime not realizing that they are self-medicating their discomfort.

How do we treat anxiety?

The first step, as you can imagine, is assessment. When we are present 24/7 we are able to observe, inquire, hypothesize, and verify a more accurate story about each participant's experience in the world. We work hard to empathize and eventually understand each person. Based on this process and assessment, we are able to formalize a treatment plan that would address the various aspects of anxiety experienced.

While this first step is occurring, we also work hard to establish a sense of safety and comfort, aiming to reduce anxiety and establish rapport. Feeling "at ease" at Free Spirit and with our staff is crucial in creating a new and more positive experience.

Implementing appropriate treatment for each form of experienced anxiety can be a long process, too individualized to outline here. This said, here are a few of the modalities we might utilize:

o Mindfulness and meditation

o Relational psychology


o Somatic experiencing and trauma work

o Existential psychology

o Experiential therapy and outdoor/wilderness therapy

o Medication review

We are here to help and are committed to being creative and effective in helping our participants live fuller, happier, and more confident lives.

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