Juan García-Bouza: "Giving a space to anxiety makes it digestible".
We interviewed Juan García-Bouza Cortés, psychologist expert in anxiety problems.
Anxiety is a phenomenon as common as it is complex. That is why, despite the fact that practically all of us have suffered anxiety problems at some point, we still have a lot to learn about it: its triggers, the problems to which it gives rise, the way it affects the human body, etc.
Precisely for this reason, one of the most important tasks of Psychology as a science is to investigate about anxiety and to translate into facts the discoveries made in this field, usually through psychotherapy. In this case we interviewed someone who is dedicated, among other things, to intervene in cases of anxiety problems combining theory with practice: the psychologist Juan García-Bouza.
Interview with Juan García-Bouza: understanding the influence of anxiety on the human mind.
Juan García-Bouza is a General Health Psychologist based in Madrid, Spain.He is an expert in the treatment of emotional and stress-related problems. Throughout this interview he talks about anxiety and the psychological and psycho-social alterations linked to it.
How to recognize the moment in which anxiety gives rise to a psychological alteration that must be treated in therapy?
There is no exact moment, there is no defined limit to stick to in order to make this decision. This does not mean that we cannot orient ourselves at the time of attending therapy based on some indicative points.
We usually resort to three criteria that, I insist, are not perfectly delimited. First of all, the intensity of anxiety is an indication that we may need to consult a professional. For example, panic attacks (more or less sudden rises in anxiety levels) are usually of an intensity that alerts and brings patients for consultation.
Secondly, the frequency. If anxiety is present in our daily lives (especially if there is no external reason apparently related to it and that could be "causing" us stress), it probably interferes with our quality of life, indicating that we should move towards therapy.
Third, the duration of the times we feel anxious.
If by combining these variables we realize that anxiety is interfering in our life, tarnishing other more pleasant emotions and robbing us of more time than necessary, it may be worthwhile to consult a professional.
Of course, not only in these cases. Other times anxiety is not a problem typified as a disorder and it is equally interesting and useful to learn how to relate to it in therapy.
From what you have seen as a psychologist, what kind of catastrophic or pessimistic thoughts are associated with excessive anxiety?
It depends on the person, the context and the relationship between the two.
What fears are present in many of us? Fear of the opinion of others, fear of making mistakes, fear of feeling selfish and guilty and, of course, thoughts in the famous format "what if x happens? In contexts of uncertainty we tend to activate the worst possible scenario, as a way of preparation, even if it involves a cost in anxiety and "there are no objectifiable motives". This is how a sort of "tale of the milkmaid of worries" begins: this will happen, then that, and finally, the catastrophe will happen. And the brain often remains there, blocked, with no other alternatives.
Is it common for work pressure and stress to give rise to an anxiety disorder?
Of course, a breeding ground for developing an anxiety problem has to do with a stressful, uncertain, unpredictable, over-demanding and precarious environment. If we add to this the fear of anxiety itself, the need to do things in a certain way and not another and add high standards of quality, the combo is done.
Of course there are cases in which anxiety is focused on work relationships, between colleagues or with the boss.
How are anxiety disorders and self-esteem related?
The fuel of anxiety is the feeling, the guarantee that something dangerous is going to happen and this will overwhelm our resources to handle it. This is when the analysis of our personal resources, skills and coping capacity can be crucial. If my self-image is impoverished, anxiety will probably be greater.
A mechanism that is activated with anxiety is usually the avoidance of that which produces it. This can also cause the messages we send to ourselves to be defeatist, self-reproachful, inculpatory and detrimental to our self-esteem: "I am a coward" "I'd better not try".
Self-esteem and social skills are related to the way we deal with anxiety, so they are often the subject of therapy work.
What other psychological disorders can be facilitated or generated by having an anxiety disorder?
We are going to find anxiety in other psychological disorders frequently, although this does not mean that anxiety has generated this disorder. Stress, anxiety and depression go hand in hand not infrequently, even if it is one condition that predominates and even if the anxiety is not excessive.
Problems related to obsessions and compulsions or eating disorders are also often destined to coexist with anxiety.
Regardless of the above, it is important to stress the idea that anxiety should not be minimized. Now the mental health debate is on the table, that's a good thing.
Socializing anxiety helps to manage it many times, because it is an open secret that sooner or later, almost all of us get the batteries, although with different intensities. In the group we will find relief and understanding, although often this alone is not enough.
What can be done in psychotherapy to help people suffering from excessive anxiety?
First of all, listen to them. Giving a space to anxiety makes it digestible, talking about what worries us helps to demystify the idea that if we face it we will break. If we can name the anxiety without hiding, we will relativize it and it will lose strength. Thus we gain ground little by little.
In therapy we will see where the anxiety comes from, how it manifests itself and why it is maintained. Depending on the case, techniques are used to confront problematic situations, the patient is trained in specific skills to manage stress and learns to relativize what we fear.