What is Therapy Really Like?

Dear Niki,

I noticed this year my anxiety skyrocketed out of nowhere! How did you cope with it and what type of counseling did you get? Were you prescribed any meds? I’m already on my journey of looking for a counselor to help me get some answers but I’m hoping with your insight on this it can help me. Thanks!

-Anonymous

Hey girl!

Thank you for sending in your question!

First off, it’s great that you’re already taking steps to address your Anxiety. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that we need to seek professional help for mental health issues. It’s easy to see why a broken bone needs medical attention but we rarely think about our mind in the same way!

After my second major panic attack (I lost my sh*t in an Ikea and started heaving sobbing and panicking near the kitchen tables) I realized that I didn’t know how to get back to “normal”.  I couldn’t just shake off my anxiety anymore and it wasn’t going away. I’m guessing this is where you’re at right now.

My fear of having a panic attack in public also grew so I would avoid going to the theater, escape rooms, and other activities I loved. I just wanted to be safe at home in case it happened again.

This is when I realized I needed help. I reached out to my insurance right away to find a psychologist in my area that specializes in anxiety disorders.

I started attending weekly sessions and had to put in A LOT of hard work to get back to feeling like my old self (no medication). I never would have imagined that it would take me a full year to get back to a healthy place but it did. It was an uphill battle but it was undoubtedly worth it.

I thought it would be helpful if I shared an honest breakdown of my personal journey and what my therapy timeline looked like. You may have a different experience based on what your doctor/therapist recommends and the issues you are working through but I want to take away as much of the mystery of this process as possible because I know how scary the unknown can be!

Month 1-3: Learning & Coping

What to expect:

  • Lots of Sharing – your therapist needs to know what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, what you’re daily life is like. My best advice is to be honest and transparent. Your therapist is here to help you and they can do their job better if you’re open to sharing.
  • Learning About Your Body & Mind – There’s  a lot of scientific/medical knowledge to explain what happens to your body and mind when you’re dealing with anxiety. I enjoyed learning about what was happening to me on a physiological level because it made anxiety seem much less like a big scary monster and more like a common health issue that needed treatment.
  • Simple Treatment – Since anxiety was affecting me daily, my therapist taught me simple ways to calm and soothe myself (I also avoided caffeine). Think of these methods as adding tools to your mental health toolbox. As you continue going through therapy you’ll gain more advanced tools to work with.

Month 4-7: Cleaning Out the Closet

What to Expect:

  • Anger & Acceptance – I was so upset that my anxiety hadn’t completely disappeared by this point. I spent an entire session crying in frustration because I didn’t want to have this problem anymore. I felt sad and frustrated! But I had to learn to accept my anxiety the same way someone accepts a weak knee or deals with an old injury. Most days are great but sometimes it would need extra attention and care. But you know what? That’s okay. That’s normal.
  • Getting Raw – Remember all those super personal thoughts you used to share with your childhood diary? Welp, the time has come to dig them all up and share them with your therapist. This helped me discover why my anxiety was popping up unexpectedly. It actually wasn’t “unexpectedly” at all. Either I was suppressing emotions and stress until it bubbled into anxiety or I wouldn’t check in on myself enough to notice my anxiety until it was big and overwhelming. I cried a lot during these sessions and left the office feeling raw and fragile. It was difficult but necessary.
  • New Tools – My therapist continued to peel back all of my layers and started to challenge me with new tools to deal with my anxiety. I moved away from soothing and comforting myself during anxiety attacks and instead I learned how to fall into and ride the wave of anxiety. No more running from a feeling. I learned to be present, feel it, and be curious about what I was experiencing without any judgmental thoughts. My therapist would trigger my anxiety and then I would sit with it and not try to make myself feel better. Instead I would be aware of my body and think things like: I feel tingling in my chest, I am not hot or cold, I feel tightness in my back. And just like that, my anxiety would dissipate. Over and over I rode the wave and I learned how much better it was to face your monsters head on then to run.

Month 8-10: Real Life Practice & Being Bold

What to Expect:

  • Practice – Get ready to try your new tools outside of therapy, in the real world! This will be challenging, especially at first but you get better at it the more you do it. You might also have some slip us but it’s important to keep trying to use everything you’ve learned.
  • Testing Your Limits – In addition to testing your new tools, the time has also come for you to push yourself. Get back to the things you love, drink some caffeine, and take on new adventures. You can’t live your life in fear. Your anxiety should not stop you from living the life you want and deserve.
  • Asking for Help – Bring up all of the challenges you’ve faced when trying to apply your new learnings and tools out in the real world. Your therapist will offer you small changes and/or encourage you to push through.

Month 11-13: Checking in

What to Expect:

  • Feeling Like Yourself – At this point, I was feeling like an upgraded version of myself! Looking back it doesn’t feel like it took as long as it did but day to day I would always wonder when I would get to this place.
  • Check Ins – To make sure everything continued to go well and to help answer any additional questions I had, my therapist changed our meeting schedule to bi-weekly to check in on me. At our last few visits we chatted about all the growth I had experienced and she reminded me that she was still available to me if I needed anything but she felt confident that I was ready to get back to my normal life and totally kill it!

I hope this helped shed a little light on what it’s actually like to go to therapy for anxiety. You may have a very different experience but I imagine there will be some similarities and at the very least, now you know more about what to expect.

Thank you for your question and let me know how therapy goes!

Love,

Niki

Ask Niki is a Q+A series open to all of my readers. You can submit a question HERE. My goal is to offer you a fresh and honest perspective like the one a good friend would offer!

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