An anxious person will report an unreasonable exaggeration of threats, repetitive negative thinking, hyper-arousal, and a strong identification with fear. The fight-or-flight response kicks into overdrive.
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Anxiety is also known for producing noticeable physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. In General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) the symptoms become so severe that normal daily functioning becomes impossible.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy theorises that in anxiety disorders, the patient overestimates the danger of disruptive events in his life, and underestimates his ability to cope. CBT attempts to replace maladaptive thinking by examining the patient’s distorted thinking and resetting the fight-or-flight response with more reasonable, accurate ones. The anxious person and the therapist work to actively change thought patterns.
In contrast, instead of changing thoughts, mindfulness-based therapies (MBTs) seek to change the relationship between the anxious person and his or her thoughts.
In mindfulness-based therapy, the person focuses on the bodily sensations that arise when he or she is anxious. Instead of avoiding or withdrawing from these feelings, he or she remains present and fully experiences the symptoms of anxiety. Instead of avoiding distressing thoughts, he or she opens up to them in an effort to realize and acknowledge that they are not literally true.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, fully realising the experience of anxiety enables anxious people to release their over identification with negative thoughts. The person practices responding to disruptive thoughts, and letting these thoughts go.
By remaining present in the body, they learn that the anxiety they experience is merely a reaction to perceived threats. By positively responding to threatening events instead of being reactive they can overcome an erroneous fight-or-flight response.