When someone comes to me in the throws of a full-blown Panic or Anxiety disorder, I usually start with the most troubling symptoms and begin an immediate dialogue to help reduce these symptoms as soon as possible. This is often accomplished via use of therapeutic homework and journaling. Doing homework in between sessions is beneficial for several reasons:
1. It helps you practice the new and alternative coping skills we work on during sessions on a daily basis. The mind of an anxiety sufferer becomes log jammed with negative thought patterns that, over time, turn into firmly held beliefs. The truth is that a thought is always the culprit for an anxiety attack, be it conscious or unconscious. Homework gives you an opportunity to tune into your thoughts in a way that youve never done before. This process makes your one hour session much more strategic, particularly in the beginning phase of treatment.
2. Anxiety homework always includes specific exercises that, in addition to writing, are used as a means of relaxation and stress reduction. Having something in writing helps you hold on to and retain lessons learned during each session.
3. The symptoms are never really about the symptoms. Those scary body sensations and racing thoughts are just forms of communication between your mind and your body. Think about an infant, for example. Crying is a symptom in the sense that it expresses a need that cannot be verbally communicated: hunger, a dirty diaper, fatigue, etc. A parents job is to tune into the needs of the infant and to anticipate these needs so as to prevent crying and screaming episodes. The more attuned the parent, the more secure the attachment and the less frequent/intense the crying episodes. Anxiety symptoms are just unmet needs of your unconscious baby, if you will. Your homework time is an opportunity to begin a dialogue with this baby and start to learn what needs arent being met. This type of dialogue takes practice and cannot be successfully accomplished, in my experience, without work in between sessions.
4. Finally, doing something and being proactive are empowering. Anxiety and panic attacks can be incredibly disempowering and beginning an active participation in your recovery builds confidence and esteem that are often sorely damaged, particularly for the long time sufferer.