FARGO — When a teen starts to seek help for anxiety, the goal might be to stop the worry, the obsessing and the panic attacks. But is it possible to cure anxiety for good? Or is it so deeply ingrained in one's self that all a person can do is learn to live with it?
The answers have as much to do with the individual as the type of anxiety he or she suffers from.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety orders. You can suffer from one of them or a combination of them.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension and is the most common form of anxiety.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is characterized by recurrent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
- Panic Disorders are characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal.
- Phobia disorders are intense fear of or aversion to specific objects and situations
According to Jo Ellison, a clinical psychologist at Essentia Health in Fargo, research shows in most cases a combination of medication (often times SSRI's, like Prozac and Zoloft, which help anxiety by stopping nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing the chemical serotonin that plays a vital role in mood regulation) and therapy will be the most effective in treating these disorders.
"Our phobias and panic disorders are probably best treated by behavioral therapy not medication while OCD often needs a combination. But without therapy can’t get significantly better," she says.
Ellison says when she first sees patients she spends a lot of time just educating them about their anxiety and separating it from who they really are.
"Anxious people are usually very intelligent, creative, quick thinkers, and they think that this anxiety is part of them. They'll think 'This is why I am so intelligent because I think this way.' Okay, but it's not the same thing," said Ellison. "Your intelligence and your anxiety are not the same thing. We need to separate the anxiety out. See the anxiety as more of a bully and a problem."
Ellison says people with anxiety are often perfectionistic. They're able to think about 14 different things at once that may or may not happen.
"Part of the thing is is trying to help them realize this is not helping. The worry is not helping you," she says. "You could think of scenarios for 100 years, and that's not going to help you get through this any better than you would naturally."
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Many therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on anxiety patients, which is defined as "a form of psychotherapy that focuses on modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts by interrogating and uprooting negative or irrational beliefs."
Tracy Hansen, a therapist at Fraser Ltd's Valley Hope Counseling, says through CBT, you ask the individual how a specific incident makes them feel, the thoughts it brings up, the mood they're in and the behavior it causes. She says sometimes it's about calming the "thought monsters" who lead you to believe what may or may not be true or refraining from "fortune telling", where you think you know what others are thinking or saying about you. Hansen points to an example of what would happen if you walk into a lunch room to see a table of your friends looking at you and laughing. She'll ask her patient how that makes them feel and what they'd do.
"They might feel like the friends are laughing at them, so they feel anxious and leave the room," Hansen says. "But we point out 'what else could be happening there?' It might have nothing to do with you. Someone might have told a joke. You need to re-frame your thoughts and recognize thought distortion. What is the evidence that that thought is true? Once they do that, they might be more willing not to run out of the room, but go sit with their friends."
For the 1 in 3 Gen Z'ers (born between 1995 and 2015) who meet criteria for an anxiety disorder, seeking therapy is a popular choice. The generation doesn't see it as stigmatizing as people in earlier generations. In fact, talking about "my therapist" is a common occurrence in the halls of some high schools. However, because of the growing popularity of seeking therapy, the wait time to get into a counselor can be troublesome. If somebody were to call and book an appointment today with a therapist either at a major medical center or in private practice, wait time could be anywhere from two to six months.
But there are some things experts suggest to alleviate anxiety symptoms on your own:
- Get more sleep
- Spend time with friends and family away from technology
- Move more
- Limit caffeine and alcohol
- Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins
- Vitamins/Minerals/Supplements (Magnesium has been called the 'original chill pill'.)
- Mindfulness and Meditation
- Deep breathing
Ellison says long, deep belly breathes are one way to communicate to the inner saber tooth tiger than you're not in trouble, and it's okay to calm down.
"Progressive muscle relaxation is another one. The whole idea there is we’re trying to learn more and more about tension in our own bodies, so we tense our muscles for about 10 seconds or so, and then relaxing them so we can feel the difference. So we can start to notice earlier and earlier when you're tensing up so they don't get into that super tense state anymore," Ellison says.
Others, like Baylee Engquist and Mollie Francis, both college students, find relief with Emotional Support Animals — in their cases cats.
Francis says she got the idea from a professor whose daughter had an ESA.
"I thought I’d try the ESA animal, along with the medications, to see if it would help, and it definitely has," Francis says. "I kind of got lucky because he (her cat Oliver) is a big cuddler, so he sleeps next to me and just purrs, and that's really soothing, especially when I'm having trouble sleeping."
But what is right for you or your child?
Often times the best strategy if you feel like anxiety is negatively impacting you or your child's life is to make an appointment with your child's primary care doctor, who can then assess the need for medication, therapy or both. If medication doesn't interest you, many therapists in private practice will take appointments without a referral from an MD.
"Therapy is super easy and super helpful. There are no drawbacks really, and often times insurance is covering all of it or a good chunk of it and it can make such a big difference," Ellison says. "The goal is really just to give them the tools that they need. We’re not talking forever treatment. We’re trying to get them up and running and increase their confidence. I see it all the time that we get to such a better place that they don't need to come back."
Debbie Svobodny, an Integrated Health Counselor at Sanford, says she'll often see people for just a handful of sessions and see effective results. Others take a longer time to get through it. But relief from anxiety is possible.
"You’re not going to struggle with anxiety forever," she says. "You’ll get the tools and learn the skills to help you deal with what comes at you in life, and then just occasional check in when you need to. You can be in remission from anxiety."
What if you think anxiety might be an emergency?
Nobody wants you to wait if you think your anxiety or your child's anxiety has reached a crisis point. Emergency departments in local hospitals are able to care for you if you feel you might be at risk of harming others or yourself. Prairie St. John's in Fargo is also a resource for those looking for immediate help. Patients from traditional emergency rooms can also be referred to Prairie St. John's.
"We are known to the community mostly for our inpatient mental health crisis care," said Kara Kluvers, Prairie St. Johns Business Development. "With this being a very valuable resource in our region, it is also a misconception in our community that this is the only service provided. Prairie St. John's provides many levels of care and these additional services are underutilized do to this misconception."
Prairie St. John's is also a Mental Health Urgent Care/Walk-in facility. Anyone who is experiencing mental health challenges, from stress/anxiety and depression to suicidal ideation and anything in-between, can call in or walk in at any time. Kluvers says it's very much like a regular walk-in clinic where medical professionals triage your needs and then help provide a follow up plan. Needs assessments are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
"Mental Health is too important to wait," Kluvers says. "There is no discrimination in mental health. We take phone calls and walk-ins from young to old, to wealthy to the less fortunate. Our intake and medical team assist individuals in determining what level of care is best for them. Prairie St. John's is here to provide stability at the right level of care, until individuals are able to get into their preferred outpatient provider."
Kluvers says all insurance is accepted and financial counselors are available.
Learn more at: www.prairie-stjohns.com
Walk in: 510 4th Street South, Fargo, ND 58103
Tomorrow in Generation Anxiety: One young woman paralyzed by anxiety turns her life around helping others face it.
Do you have questions about anxiety? You can ask mental health counselor/therapist Tracy Hansen during a live on-line chat session Wednesday Jan. 15 over the noon hour. Details to follow.