Do you get stressed out before the holidays with too much to do? Do you feel nervous at a job interview, when taking a test, or meeting new people?
Anxiety is part of everyday life.
All of us experience it at some point in our lives. Mild levels of anxiety can actually increase our performance and motivate us to excel, as we are more alert and focused. After the situation has subsided, we no longer experience anxiety.
If you have an anxiety disorder, however, an intense level of anxiety prevents you from coping with problems. This can be terribly disruptive to performance. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem that people experience. Luckily, these types of disorders usually respond well to different treatment modalities.
So, what are the most common anxiety disorders and what are the most effective treatments modalities for them?
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic worry and tension, The source of the anxiety is difficult to pinpoint, and the individual is consumed with anxiety throughout the day. Relaxation is difficult and often sleep is disturbed. Some people with generalized anxiety disorder have headaches and feel irritable all the time.
Panic disorder entails episodes of panic and terror that strike suddenly. Individuals with panic disorder may sense strong heart palpitations–so strong that they report feeling like they are having a heart attack and may end up in an emergency room. Often the feeling of terror lasts for a few minutes, but the fear of having another panic attack lingers.
Social phobia disorder is characterized by fear of being in social settings and, especially, a fear of humiliation within these settings.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder tends to focus on rituals a person has created in hopes of alleviating anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is also an anxiety disorder, but often the cause of this disorder is a traumatic event that continues to create anxiety in an individual’s life. Many times the event may have occurred several years back.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems; they are also the most responsive to treatment.
These different anxiety disorders are disabling to varying degrees. I have treated individuals who have had difficulty leaving their homes to people who have been unable to attend work and end up avoiding all life obligations. For some people, anxiety may appear mild, but it is still a chronic daily battle that does not seem to get any easier.
Fortunately, many anxiety disorders respond well to treatment, Cognitive behavioral therapy with a professional therapist will usually focus on the individual’s irrational thoughts and beliefs that maintain anxiety. Therapy will facilitate behavioral changes to reduce the level of anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy along with medication seems to be one of the most effective ways of managing anxiety disorders. Though the cognitive behavioral therapy model is well known to many therapists, there are many other modalities of treatment that also help in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
For the patient, many things can be done at home to help lessen anxiety. For example, reducing one’s intake of caffeine and starting a regular exercise routine are helpful. Learning to meditate or joining a yoga or tai chi class that focuses on reducing stress may be beneficial also. Additionally, biofeedback (sometimes provided by therapists) may help individuals learn how to reduce their heart rates in anxiety-prone situations.
A Case History
Alyssa, a twenty-year-old female client, was referred to counseling after multiple doctors’ appointments and several medications that only marginally con trolled her chronic headaches and high blood pressure. In initial sessions, Alyssa discussed her worries about work and finances. She worried what other people thought of her and had a fear of saying something embarrassing to others. Like many clients, Alyssa had experienced problems with anxiety for several years. She had been reluctant, however, to seek mental health treatment. Alyssa finally experienced a level of discomfort with her anxiety that made her seek counseling. She learned in counseling to work on her irrational thoughts (for example, ‘’People are staring at me.’’ “People don’t like me.” “l am not good enough.”) by looking to more rational thought patterns. She learned to use positive statements (such as, “I am likable.” “I am good enough.”) that helped her to change her lifestyle patterns as well. She started to go out more and worry less. She started paying more attention to her nutrition and to monitor the amount of caffeine she was consuming.I taught Alyssa several different ways to use imagery, an effective relaxation technique taught by many therapists. For example, by using the imagery of a “container”, Alyssa learned to put her worries away for time being. With her worries safely contained, she could then start working on problems one at a time rather than being overwhelmed by multiple problems simultaneously. l also taught her deep breathing and showed her how she could reduce her blood pressure by taking several deep breaths and slowing down.After several months of treatment, Alyssa reported a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and a significant increase in her life satisfaction.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety disorders one of the most common mental health problems that people face today. The good news is that they are also the most responsive to treatment. With the help of a mental health provider who is experienced in treatment, the extremes of anxiety disorders can be lessened to normal daily anxieties. For those willing to additionally make some healthy changes in lifestyle, anxiety disorders may not only be reduced, but may bring out better performance, more efficiency, and a happier life.
Sirpa Lahtinen-Gorman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Eagle River, Alaska. Visit her on www.alaskatherapy.com or call at (907) 720-1878.