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How EMDR Can Help Treat Anxiety

By Rebecca Kase, Owner – Kase & CO 

Anxiety isn’t a new word, nor is it a new medical diagnosis. Today’s generation is more willing to get properly diagnosed and treated for their mental health than any other generation. However, there’s still work to be done. While more and more people are getting properly diagnosed, there is a misconception between anxiety and anxiety disorders. The relentless feeling of unease, the racing thoughts, and the tight grip of worry can make even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming. And this can happen at any time with seemingly no triggers and does not go away. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the US that affect over 40 million adults a year, yet only 36 percent receive treatment. This discrepancy between how many are getting diagnosed and how many are seeking treatment could be that anxiety disorders are a large umbrella that encompasses several anxiety-related disorders and is often a co-occurrence with other disorders. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be a great alternative to standard treatments for anxiety disorders and any co-occurrence disorder the individual may have. 

How EMDR works

EMDR isn’t your typical talk therapy — it’s a remarkable technique developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro that harnesses the brain’s healing capacities. By engaging bilateral brain activity through eye movements, sounds, or taps, EMDR facilitates the reprocessing of traumatic memories and the emotions tied to them. It’s like giving your brain a gentle nudge in the right direction, helping it calibrate and find a healthier path forward. 

At the core of EMDR is the concept of memory reprocessing. When a person undergoes a traumatic event or experiences distressing memories, the brain may struggle to fully process and integrate the associated emotions and information. As a result, these memories can remain unprocessed and continue to trigger anxiety and distress in the present. 

One of the theories behind how EMDR works is that the bilateral stimulation used in the therapy activates both hemispheres of the brain, facilitating communication and processing between different neural networks. This process helps the brain access and reorganize the traumatic memory, leading the individual to better handle any distress and improve their overall sense of well-being. 

Anxiety as a helpful emotion

Anxiety, despite its negative reputation, serves a crucial purpose in our lives. It’s a signal from our nervous system that alerts us to potential threats and prepares us to take action. Think of it as an internal alarm system that activates the fight-or-flight response when danger lurks. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming or lingers long after the threat has passed, it can become a burden, hindering our ability to lead fulfilling lives. 

Understanding anxiety through the lens of the nervous system allows us to appreciate its role as a protective mechanism, while reorganizing the need for balance. Looking at anxiety from a neurological perspective not only demystifies its role, but also paves the way for innovative treatment like EMDR. EMDR can help individuals reframe negative thought patterns, challenge irrational beliefs, and develop effective coping mechanisms.

EMDR and anxiety

What sets EMDR apart is its unique approach to treating anxiety at its source. Rather than simply managing symptoms, EMDR dives into the depths of traumatic memories and allows individuals to reframe them in a more positive light. Through bilateral stimulation techniques, EMDR helps the brain rewire itself, forging new connections and paving the way for healing. It’s like rewiring a faulty circuit, replacing fear and anxiety with resilience and empowerment. 

During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the individual to focus on specific target memories or distressing thoughts while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. This process helps the brain make new connections and associations between the traumatic memory and more positive, adaptive information.

The ideal candidate for EMDR 

EMDR holds tremendous potential for individuals struggling with various anxiety disorders. Whether it’s the relentless worry of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the haunting memories of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or the suffocating grip of panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, EMDR offers a ray of hope. Moreover, those grappling with anxiety stemming from specific phobias, childhood trauma, or significant life events may find EMDR to be an effective therapeutic option. Remember, it’s always essential to consult with a trained EMDR therapist to determine the suitability of this approach for individual needs.

Anxiety, a complex and pervasive emotion, has the power to overshadow our lives, limiting our potential for joy and fulfillment. Yet, within the depths of anxiety lies the opportunity for transformation and resilience. EMDR has emerged as a beacon of hope, offering a path to heal wounds that fuel anxiety’s relentless grip. No longer bound by the chains of anxiety, individuals who embark on the journey of EMDR discover a profound sense of liberation. They learn to navigate the ebb and flow of life’s challenges with newfound resilience, knowing that their past no longer holds them hostage. 

Rebecca Kase is a licensed clinical social worker and yoga instructor, living in Gig Harbor WA. She is an EMDR Consultant & Basic Trainer, and owner of Kase & CO. She is the author of Polyvagal informed EMDR: A neuro-informed approach to healing. Rebecca is a force of nature. She’s a compassionate and authentic consultant, who has a keen sense for holding space, bringing levity to the heaviest topics, and creating engaging learning experiences. Rebecca incorporates yoga,  throughout her clinical work and training, and has specialties in mind-body techniques, dissociation, complex trauma, and ego-state work. Rebecca values creating shame-free spaces for learning in training and consultation, and believes in teaching clinicians the values of humility and curiosity as vital elements to the healing process. Rebecca has worked in a variety of settings and with a variety of populations. She began her career as an MSW working with children and adolescents. She has worked in community mental health centers, nursing homes, private practice, shelters, crisis centers, community-based work, and internationally. She has been teaching in professional and academic settings since 2009.

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