Expert advice for understanding and treating your anxiety disorder
Anxiety is a condition that affects many people, but we rarely hear about it. That’s because anxiety is often referred to as the “silent disorder” because there are no giveaways or “props” visible to the eye. What may seem invisible to some is certainly very real for those who suffer, as an anxiety disorder can serve as a major disruption in one’s personal and professional life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans, or 18% of the population, suffer from anxiety.
The good news, however, is that anxiety disorders are very treatable conditions with the right interventions. Here is some expert advice that everyone experiencing an anxiety disorder should follow.
Do see a psychiatrist/psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders
Ninety percent of psychiatric conditions are treated by family physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others outside the field of psychiatry, yet family doctors and their colleagues only receive eight to 12 weeks of psychiatric training in medical school and residency. While many family physicians will gladly write a script for an anti-anxiety medication, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a doctor who specializes in anxiety disorders, particularly if you prefer anxiety-specific therapies.
Do explore different types of therapy
Medication is certainly very effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders, but consider all of your options, which include: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response-prevention therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, family therapies, yoga and meditation. Don’t be afraid to try different treatment options or a combination of options to find what works best for you. Most therapies take 12-16 sessions to be optimally effective.
Do understand anxiety
It’s important to know that anxiety is a normal part of life, can be healthy and everyone experiences it. For people with an anxiety disorder, understand what triggers your symptoms. Anxiety that interferes with your functioning or causes significant distress warrants treatment. There are different kinds of anxiety symptoms including panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, crippling social anxiety or generalized anxiety. A clinician can differentiate between these disorders, which is necessary, as treatment is specific.
Do take medications exactly as prescribed
As people start to feel better, some become complacent about their medication. Be very careful because if you’ve been taking certain anti-anxiety or antidepressants for a period of time, serious withdrawal symptoms can occur if you quit taking these medications cold turkey or reduce the dose too quickly. Always follow a tapering schedule prescribed by your doctor. Most patients with an anxiety disorder will need maintenance treatment for at least 6-12 months after they are well.
Do realize that recurrences are common in anxiety disorders
If you’ve greatly reduced your anxiety levels and are off therapy and medications, understand that anxiety can recur again months or years down the road. This may be related to stressors in your life, but sometimes can occur spontaneously. If the symptoms are similar to those that occurred in the past, see your doctor or therapist who last treated you. However, sometimes the recurrence of anxiety may not be due to the recurrence of previous illness but situational anxiety.
Do not listen to friends and family
While well-intended, these people are often misled when it comes to anxiety disorders. They make comments like “it’s all in your head” and “my friend did this type of treatment and she is cured.” Follow the advice of your doctor, therapist or other trained professional. By all means, family and friends can be excellent resources to help you through a difficult time and recover, but their advice should not supersede the advice of a trained professional.
Do not cave into pressure
If you suffer from Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, for example, it’s good to push yourself or expose yourself to situations that bring on anxiety. However, there are times when you need a legitimate push, and times when if something seems too difficult to take on at that moment, it should be broken down into a simpler task or re-visited at another time, after your anxiety levels are decreased with treatment.
Do not buy into the stigma
If you had a heart condition, you would quickly make an appointment with a cardiologist. When it comes to mental health, people are hesitant about going to see a psychologist or psychiatrist because of the stigma society has placed on people who do. You are not crazy and there is no shame and nothing to be embarrassed about by seeking quality mental health services. An anxiety disorder can be more disabling than heart disease or even cancer.
Do not give into setbacks
It’s not uncommon for people to make a significant amount of progress, and then have a small setback. It’s all part of the recovery process and know that when it does happen, you don’t have to start your treatment from the beginning. Figure out what caused the setback and work with your doctor or therapist to resume progress.
A very important do and don’t for anyone diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is reading all the information available online. There is a lot of great information about anxiety disorders on the internet, and even a number of great online support groups and communities. At the same time, be very cautious with what you read and don’t take it all to heart. One person’s experience can be extremely different than the next person’s, and what didn’t work well for one person might be the thing that helps you most.
The bottom line when it comes to anxiety disorders is that they are very treatable with the right help. If your anxiety is becoming overwhelming and you are having a difficult time coping, make an appointment with a specialist who treats these conditions.