Margaret Petersen, MFT

Counseling and Psychotherapy


"Stress is not what happens to us.  It's our response to what happens. And response is something we can choose."  ~ Maureen Killoran

We live in busy, noisy and distracting times, and we’re bombarded with media, multitasking lifestyles, and technology like never before. When we take just a moment to breathe, what many of us experience is a desire for a few moments of peace.  A time out.  A break.

Sometimes we think the only way to relieve stress is to change our physical surroundings, but what often creates our stress is inside our minds, of our own making. And to worry about why our minds are creating such anxious thoughts just adds to the unrest!  No wonder anxiety is on the rise in our culture.

While everyone agonizes over certain deadlines, relationships, and important events, for some of us the constant worry can cause severe ongoing symptoms that impede or disrupt our daily lives.

Fortunately there are many appropriate and effective psychotherapeutic treatments for anxiety disorders, which can help the majority of those who experience anxiety.

Major Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with their own unique characteristics.  Six of them are outlined below.  All of them can include a combination of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, trembling, dizziness, and a sense of ongoing dread.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder leaves people with recurring fears or worries, and an uneasy sense that something bad is going to happen.  Often the fears center on health issues, finances, work, or worries about losing control.  It can be difficult to pinpoint the origin of these intense feelings, but they are very real and can impact one’s day-to-day life in a painful way.

Panic Disorder can arise when anxiety advances to intense and unprovoked feelings of terror and fear that interfere with the activities of daily living.  Fear of the next panic attack becomes as difficult to cope with as the attack itself and can lead to isolation and staying at home to avoid the pain.

Social Phobias are a debilitating sense that in public places, such as school, shops, work or meetings, everyone is watching, staring, or judging – even though a wiser part of the self knows this probably isn’t true.  Social phobias make it difficult to relax and be with other people in public. It is a constant feeling of being evaluated in a critical way, such that concentrating on anything else becomes almost impossible. The painful anxiety of being out with others is often too much to bear, such that staying home wins - over and over again.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is experienced as uncontrollable and unwanted feelings or thoughts (obsessions) that lead to routines or rituals (compulsions), in which people engage to try to prevent or get rid of the thoughts.  A person can develop a compulsion around a health issue, such as checking one’s heart rate hundreds of times a day, hand washing or cleaning obsessively for fear of being overrun by germs or dirt.  A specific phobia, such as a fear of flying or a fear of small places can also interfere with one’s daily living.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, or OCPD, has some similar symptoms to OCD, however people experiencing OCPD believe that their thoughts are correct and that it is other people who have a problem.  People with both OCD and OCPD tend to be high achievers with rigid routines and have difficulty expressing certain emotions, such as direct anger.  They often have difficulty completing tasks because of their rigid standards for perfection, and meeting their own standards can lead to more frustration and anxiety.  Some of the signs of OCPD are excessive devotion to work, inability to throw things away, lack of generosity and flexibility, not willing to show affection, preoccupation with lists, details, receipts and rules, and an unwillingness to allow others to do the things they want to do.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is the result of a traumatic experience (such as a life-threatening natural disaster, crime, accident, war experience, or incident of abuse) that can debilitate one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in anxious ways for months, even years, after the trauma occurred.  The anxiety can interfere with relationships, work, self-esteem and sense of self.  PTSD changes the body’s response to stress.  It affects the stress hormones and neurotransmitters that carry information between the nerves in the body.  Psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved in PTSD.  Symptoms can include “re-living” the event with flashbacks and nightmares; “avoidance”, such that feeling numb and detached is a way to cope; arousal issues such as having a “startle response” to life; feeling hyper-vigilant or more aware of one’s surroundings; feeling irritable, or having outbursts of hostility to keep one safe.

It is important to seek treatment for any type of anxiety disorder.  Left untreated, symptoms can increase in severity and impact job security, relationships, and basic activities, reaching a point of physiological stress and emotional overwhelm.  People dealing with symptoms of anxiety have a greater tendency to abuse alcohol and drugs as a means of self-medicating, which can then exacerbate relationship problems, health, safety, and job performance.

Numerous research studies consistently demonstrate that many types of therapies can be highly effective in treating anxiety disorders.  Relaxation and deep breathing exercises can be taught as a means of taking charge of some of the core anxiety that is present with all the disorders.  Awareness of one’s thoughts, and how those thoughts impact stress is addressed, and tools are introduced to help reduce anxiety-producing thoughts to calmer and more supportive thoughts. As symptoms decrease, the sense of taking back control of one’s self emerges in a calm and confident way.

Questions about any of these types of anxiety disorders or symptoms?  Please feel free to call me to set up a time to talk on the phone or meet to discuss your concerns at (925) 520-5263 or email me at

For 50 quick and easy ways to calm your anxiety right now please click here: 
50 Ways to Calm Your Anxiety.pdf (pdf file for downloading)


Anxiety, Panic Support

“When old patterns are broken, 
new worlds emerge.”
~ Tuli Kupferberg