More Americans than ever are struggling with anxiety every single day. Around 18% of all U.S. adults deal with some form of anxiety every year, and that proportion is significantly higher for the most stressed out segments of the population. In fact, more than 60% of college students report feeling overwhelming anxiety in the past year.
Considering the fact that these people are dealing with symptoms of anxiety, like pervasive worry, headaches and body aches, restlessness, and many others, it’s hard to believe that only around 37% of people dealing with an anxiety disorder will actually seek treatment.
The result is that many people turn to unhealthy habits as a means of dulling the pain of their anxiety symptoms, but these coping mechanisms are merely a bandaid that ultimately make anxiety disorders worse in the long run. Therapy for anxiety is a highly effective treatment method, but many anxiety sufferers never make it that far.
The Many Unhealthy Mechanisms Used to Cope with Anxiety
For many people struggling with some sort of anxiety disorder, symptoms are crippling every single day. Some anxiety sufferers have trouble doing something as simple as going to the grocery store due to their disorder; others find that they feel trapped in their own heads, doomed to worry over every possibility.
Whether it’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a specific phobia, or some other form of anxiety, a person is bound to seek some sort of self-soothing at a certain point. This can mean indulging in drugs or alcohol to drown their symptoms.
The problem is drugs and alcohol cannot permanently fix the underlying cause of an anxiety disorder. In fact, many substances will actually make anxiety symptoms worse over time. More troubling still is the fact that more than 18% of adults struggling with anxiety will develop a dependency on drugs or alcohol due to self-medicating.
It has long been understood that there’s a high relative correlation between anxiety disorders and substance abuse; one school of thought states that this correlation is due to the fact that so many people struggling with anxiety treat their substance of choice like a medication.
Once self-medicating has turned into dependency and addiction, it becomes much more difficult to effectively treat an anxiety disorder due to the addiction must be broken before the underlying disorder can be addressed.
While drugs and alcohol are certainly the most dangerous way that those struggling with anxiety tend to self-medicate, they’re not the only method. The simple fact is that almost everyone with anxiety has developed a specific set of coping mechanisms even if they don’t realize it.
For example, someone with social anxiety might consistently cancel plans with friends as a means of avoidance; a person with a generalized anxiety disorder might rely on unhealthy lifestyle habits (like excessive eating) to curb their constant feelings of discomfort, and someone with PTSD might avoid sleep if it triggers memories of their trauma.
Ultimately, avoidance practices like these only cause someone struggling with anxiety to isolate themselves and withdraw from any potential resources that could actually help them get to the bottom of their disorder.
Though all of these means might help minimize someone’s feelings of anxiety in everyday life, they do not address the actual disorder, and therefore, they do nothing in the way of providing long-term relief. Not to mention, coping in these ways often causes anxiety sufferers to internalize their struggles, and treat them as a source of guilt.
A Healthier Way to Cope
This isn’t to say that various coping mechanisms are universally unhealthy. In fact, one of the greatest benefits of receiving therapy for anxiety is the fact that a therapist can provide a patient with concrete steps toward healthy anxiety management.
Some healthy coping strategies that a therapist might teach are as simple as engaging in breathing exercises when anxiety symptoms begin to set in. Other strategies take more time and effort to learn such as finding ways to divert intrusive thoughts and replace them with healthy mental patterns. Perhaps the most universal tool taught in therapy for anxiety is simply a willingness to discuss what one is feeling in a way devoid of shame.
The specific tools that a practitioner teaches in therapy for anxiety depend entirely on the patient. Therapy is a highly personal experience, so seeking help through this means ensures that someone dealing with anxiety will have their specific issues addressed.
Beyond simply teaching someone how to deal with anxiety, a therapist will take the time to try and help the patient suss out the root of their anxiety as well. Often, things like childhood trauma can get buried by those experiencing anxiety, and it takes an open and honest discussion with a therapist to bring it to light.
Simple as it may seem, being able to name the event or situations that planted the seeds of anxiety in one’s life can prove highly useful in treating that anxiety. After all, it’s much easier to fight an opponent with a face and a name than one that hides in the shadows.
In some cases, prescription medication may also be necessary to fully alleviate the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, but therapy alone is highly effective for many patients. In any case, meeting with a therapist will give a person a clearer picture of their specific disorder, and the way that it can be treated.
Making it to the point of seeking therapy for anxiety isn’t always easy, but it can inspire a total life transformation. Contact Mission Harbor Behavioral Health to see the marked difference that high-quality therapy can make in improving symptoms of anxiety.
The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.
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