Vail Daily health feature: Alleviating anxiety
March 25, 2013
Many of us know someone who could be called worry-wort. We may even have a tendency to worry constantly about certain things ourselves. At what point does worrying turn into something more serious, like anxiety?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent of adults have some type of anxiety disorder. The definition of an anxiety disorder can run the gamut from post-traumatic stress disorder to something called generalized anxiety disorder, which is typically what people are referring to when talking about anxiety.
Meredith Van Ness, licensed clinical social worker at Samaritan Counseling Center of the Rockies in Edwards, said in order for someone to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, they must have prolonged symptoms that persist for at least six months.
“Most people become anxious over certain things, and that’s a normal part of life,” Van Ness said. “(Generalized anxiety disorder) is when the intensity of the anxiety becomes significantly difficult to control.”
When worrying becomes too much
Van Ness said the main difference between stress and anxiety is that with anxiety, the worrying is excessive or more than what would be expected for a particular situation. For example, most people feel some sort of anxiety before taking a test, but this feeling tends to go away once the test is over. A person with generalized anxiety disorder might still fret about the test and be unable to stop worrying about it well after the exam has been taken.
Some of the main symptoms for anxiety include irritability, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, becoming easily fatigued or worn out, feeling “wound up” or tense, or feeling restless. Van Ness said while it’s normal for many of us to experience one or more of these symptoms, it’s when the anxiety starts to interfere with our daily lives that it becomes serious.
“Some people can have some of these symptoms and can cope with everyday life,” Van Ness said. “People who can’t function (may have generalized anxiety disorder).”
People often experience anxiety and depression simultaneously.
“A lot of times anxiety can lead to depression,” Van Ness said. “With anxiety you’re unable to control your thoughts and worrying, whereas depression is a pro-longed (period) of sadness, hopelessness, feelings of despair (and believing) that things will not get better.”
People with depression may not want to take part in activities they used to enjoy. People with anxiety may still take part in those activities, but feel worried or stressed while doing them.
“People get anxious, and then people become depressed about their anxiousness,” Van Ness said. “They keep having these negative thoughts and beating themselves up, thinking ‘What’s wrong with me?’ (Those) negative thoughts (can) make someone depressed.”
Quick fixes versus long-term relief
Although generalized anxiety disorder is very common, Van Ness cautions against people self-diagnosing themselves.
“With the Internet, if I have one little symptom, I’ll look it up,” Van Ness said. “(But) if you’re going to diagnose yourself and not get treatment for it, you’ll be continuing to manifest negative thoughts about yourself.”
The good thing about generalized anxiety disorder is that it can be treated. Van Ness said cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to reduce and eliminate anxiety.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy re-trains your brain on how you behave and react in situations that trigger anxiety,” Van Ness said.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can work for patients with anxiety in as little as six to 12 sessions, or six to 12 hours. Alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug whose brand name is Xanax, is one of the most widely used psychiatric drugs in the U.S., with 46.3 million prescriptions in 2010. While Xanax is popular, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to treat anxiety.
“If someone is going to be on Xanax, they should also be in therapy,” Van Ness said. “Xanax is a short-term fix. It’s going to (provide) temporary relief, but its not teaching (you) coping skills … (With anxiety) you need to change your thinking and how you react. The pills will not help long-term.”
Van Ness said some people do benefit from taking medication and that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), designed to treat depression, can treat anxiety as well.
Using the body to quiet the mind
Julie Kiddoo, co-owner of Revolution Power Yoga in Eagle-Vail, said she uses yoga to deal with her anxiety. When she was a senior in high school, Kiddoo experienced a major depression, which led her to being hospitalized. Since then Kiddoo has tried both therapy and medication to cope with her anxiety and depression. She started practicing yoga in 2007.
“I’ve really found yoga to be tremendously helpful for me to manage my own mental health,” Kiddoo said. “(Yoga) puts my brain on hold. I tend to be an obsessive thought person, and that triggers anxiety. For me, yoga is an opportunity to put all that stuff on ice, really connect into myself, and get grounded and centered.”
Now a yoga teacher, Kiddoo wants to share what she’s learned about how yoga can aid those suffering with mental illness. Kiddoo will run a one-day workshop Saturday at Yoga Off Broadway in Eagle called “Yoga for the Big D: Transform anxiety and depression through yoga.”
“Yoga for the Big D” will focus on yoga exercises and poses designed to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. The workshop will also include a session in which participants write down their thoughts and feelings to get at the root of what causes these symptoms. Kiddoo held the first of these workshops last fall, and said the feedback she got from participants inspired her to lead more sessions like this.
“Just two weeks ago, one of my students (from the first workshop) came to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you for sharing about being on medication,'” Kiddoo said. “Through opening up and sharing about myself he recognized that it’s not wrong that he’s been feeling bad. (Now) he knows there’s hope and that he can get some help.”
When it comes to anxiety, Kiddoo does not think there is one cure-all method that works for everyone. But for her, yoga has taught her the tools she needs in order to keep her anxiety and depression at bay.
“Yoga has gotten me self-aware of how I can help myself, as opposed to (looking) to the outside,” Kiddoo said. “Sometimes as a society we can be overmedicated. I want to empower people to really get into their center to help themselves as well.”