EMDR For Anxiety

In a world where uncertainty is the only certainty, anxiety emerges as a common problem that binds us to a shared vulnerability. It is because anxiety is a universal human experience. 

In recent years, anxiety has become increasingly prevalent worldwide and can be seen among different age groups, genders, races, and cultures. Everyone can agree that nearly all of us have encountered anxiety at some point in our lives. 

For some of us, anxiety can be easily accepted as a natural response to stress and recognized without judgment. However, some people constantly suppress or avoid anxiety, resulting in a vicious cycle and buildup of anxiety over time.

Generally, anxiety is a debilitating experience that needs immediate intervention using evidence-based psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), to name a few.

In today’s discussion, join us as we take a look at and focus on how EMDR works for anxiety. 

What is Anxiety?

Most of us view anxiety as a feeling associated with worries, being uneasy, or being nervous about particular objects or situations that are uncertain to us. We feel anxiety when we are about to take an examination, a job interview, a public speech, sometimes in a social situation, or even when there is no immediate danger to us. Have you experienced some of them? It is a normal variation of anxiety.

Anxiety may look like a common and simple experience, but in psychological terms, it is more than a feeling connected to worries. Anxiety is our natural response to a stressor that triggers our nervous system’s automatic physiological reaction—the ‘fight or flight response.’

When people experience anxiety occasionally, they react to it proportionally and can manage it adaptively. We can say that they are having a normal anxiety experience.

However, when the anxiety feeling becomes excessive, persistent, and prolonged and affects his or her day-to-day function, the anxiety reaches the threshold of a clinical disorder.

Anxiety Symptoms

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some mental health disorders related to anxiety include phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.

These disorders share common symptoms: physical (e.g., sweating, trembling), cognitive (distorted thoughts), behavioral (avoidance), and emotional (irritability). 

EMDR Treatment for Anxiety

While there are different types of therapy available for anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), we focus our succeeding discussion on exploring how EMDR works with people suffering from anxiety.

How Does EMDR Work to Help Treat Anxiety?

EMDR has emerged as a unique strategy in treating people with excessive anxiety. By guiding individuals through a structured eight-phase protocol using various bilateral stimulation, EMDR not only targets past memories associated with anxiety but also improves an individual’s present emotional state. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

In 1987, Francine Shapiro introduced EMDR as a form of therapy that helps people process and reprocess their distressing events or memories using bilateral stimulation, which stimulates the brain’s adaptive information processing system.

This procedure lessens the emotional consequences and impact of the memory and enables the integration of new positive beliefs.

Although the EMDR technique was first introduced as a treatment recommended for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it has been proven to be an effective treatment that continues to show a reduction in anxiety levels.

EMDR for Anxiety

EMDR works in a similar way to how it is applied to people with PTSD. If you have anxiety, your EMDR therapist will help you identify and process specific memories that trigger an anxious response. These memories could be related to a present distressing situation, past traumatic events, or imagined future scenarios.

Your therapist will also guide you on how to reduce the emotional impact of anxiety using bilateral stimulation (e.g., eye movements).

In addition, your therapist will assist you in understanding how the anxiety associated with negative beliefs can be changed with more adaptive and positive beliefs.

In some cases, mindfulness and relaxation techniques are taught before engaging in EMDR therapy as part of preparation and to ensure that anxious responses can be managed when they arise during sessions. 

Benefits of EMDR

Mainly, EMDR can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety by targeting the distressing memories or underlying issues that contribute to anxiety. EMDR can also aid individuals in identifying negative belief patterns, processing them, and installing a new set of healthier (positive) and more adaptive beliefs.

Enhanced emotional regulation, where there is a balance in emotional state (e.g., controlling anxiety), is expected. In addition, individuals who undergo EMDR therapy learn coping skills to manage their triggers and stressors. 

How Long Does EMDR Take to Work?

EMDR sessions are usually delivered in six to 12 sessions, which can be either once or twice a week and last about 60 to 90 minutes each.

Generally, the duration of EMDR treatment and any other forms of psychotherapy vary widely depending on the nature or specific type of anxiety (e.g., GAD, phobia, panic disorder, etc.), severity of symptoms, responsiveness to treatment, consistency or commitment in attending treatment sessions, and evaluation of the client’s progress.

Using EMDR for Anxiety

EMDR is a structured psychotherapy strategy that follows eight phases, from initial assessment up to closure and progress assessment. EMDR therapy includes:

  • History Taking: This is the phase where your therapist gathers information about your history, past distressing or painful memories, and present symptoms associated with anxiety. Your therapist will also assess your readiness for EMDR therapy and help you identify treatment goals. 
  • Preparation: During this phase, your therapist teaches you a set of coping skills and strategies that help you manage potential distress and spikes in anxiety during sessions.
  • Assessment: In the assessment phase, your therapist assists you in identifying specific images, feelings, beliefs, and physical sensations causing anxiety.
  • Desensitization: In this phase, you will be guided by the therapist in the recall of distressing events that trigger anxiety while doing a bilateral stimulation (e.g., following your therapist’s finger with your eyes).
  • Installation: Once the specific memory is processed, your therapist will ask you to replace the negative belief about anxiety with a positive one. Then, the bilateral stimulation is repeated to integrate and strengthen the new positive belief.
  • Body Scan: During this phase, your therapist will ask you to check your body from head to toe to see if there are potential physical tensions or any discomfort that is being felt related to the specific memory.
  • Closure: Closure is when your therapist ensures you are calm and grounded before the session ends and leaves. When needed, an additional set of coping skills and strategies is introduced.
  • Reevaluation: In this stage, your progress will be evaluated by your therapist. In the unlikely event that remaining memories need to be processed and reprocessed, additional treatment will be provided.

Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy for Anxiety

Over the past years, research studies have shown that EMDR therapy is an effective treatment for anxiety and related disorders. Its unique approach to treating people with anxiety continues to spark interest among clinicians in the scientific community.

As more people continue to discover its power to change someone’s anxiety experience, EMDR places a great spot among the effective treatment options that deliver a promising result for those who have not yet found an approach that suits their needs.

Find an EMDR Therapist

Looking for an EMDR therapist is a pivotal step in making your anxiety treatment journey a successful one. Consider taking your mental health treatment starting point with Luxe Recovery LA and meet our highly skilled, experienced, and certified EMDR therapists. We provide a personalized treatment plan that resonates with your healing journey.

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