For anxiety-prone, holidays bring on much more than stress

Authored by Sandra Oxx
December 4, 2018

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about the upcoming holiday season? If you answered stress, you are not alone. The typical stress in managing the preparations, meeting with irascible cousin Fred, and other family members you haven’t seen in a while could be enough for anyone to break into a rash.

For people with one of the six common types of anxiety, it could mean much more than the previous quip. The stress of the holiday could cause someone with Social Anxiety Disorder, for example, to suffer for weeks beforehand, as he or she figures out how to cope or avoid the situation altogether.

It is enough that people with anxiety disorders possess disproportionate responses to stress, in that they may experience prolonged physical symptoms of lightheadedness, nausea, sleeplessness, or headaches along with emotional ones, such as constant negative thoughts and worrying.  Add to the preceding, the initial shock upon hearing that you have been diagnosed with one of the six anxiety disorders, the necessary therapy and medication and it could possibly dredge up more anxiety.

However, the reality is that anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable mental health disorders, and yet most children and adults who experience anxiety don’t receive treatment that could benefit them.

Social Anxiety Disorder, or social phobia, is one of the most common disorders and includes symptoms of excessive worry, self-consciousness, fear of embarrassment or judgment before and during social occasions. Outward signs include sweating, trembling, and blushing. Without treatment, social phobia can last for years or even a lifetime. As with most anxiety disorders, people experiencing symptoms that interfere with daily functioning, lasting six months or more, may need to seek professional help.

Along with Social Phobia, the other five anxiety disorders are the following: panic disorder, isolated phobia, (think spiders, clowns, or heights), separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia (think fear of open spaces, being in a crowd or even being alone at home) and generalized anxiety disorder or GAD (endless worry over everyday activities) with GAD the most prevalent among older adults. Among children, separation anxiety, social anxiety, and GAD are the most common.

Those with anxiety disorders may find solace in the knowledge that these disorders are the most prevalent mental health disorders with about 32 percent of U.S. adolescents and adults, living with   anxiety disorders, according to national survey. The American Academy of Physicians note that newly diagnosed, adult patients with anxiety disorders, often experienced anxiety symptoms as adolescents, but were never treated.

In addition, the AAP reports only 21 percent of affected children receive treatment, which the organization attributes to the dearth of mental health providers. The AAP hypothesizes that the shortage has led to the lower numbers of children and adolescents receiving necessary treatment along with long wait times they must endure to be seen by clinicians, therapists, and psychiatrists.

In contrast, the 2017 American Psychological Association reports   the “woeful under-diagnosis” of anxiety disorders in children by health care providers, parents, and teachers, who don’t recognize the severity of the child’s anxiety because of the belief they will “outgrow” the symptoms. Director Wendy Silverman, Ph.D. of the Yale Child Center Program for Anxiety Disorders notes that the evidence does not support the notion that children experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorders will outgrow them.

Untreated anxiety disorders increase the risk of more future anxiety, social and academic dysfunction along with depression, substance use disorders, and suicide, according to data of over 9,000 respondents in the National Co-morbidity Survey, conducted at Harvard University.

Bearing the prevalence and serious consequences of untreated anxiety, researchers are examining risks and prevention strategies associated with anxiety. Certainly, childhood trauma and genetics play a role, yet parents’ interactions with their children and others in their lives also may contribute to anxiety. For example, parents may become hypervigilant in their quest to protect children from adversity by continually involving themselves in their children’s teachers and goings-on in school. Marie Albano, Ph.D., director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders says coddled children do not get a chance to learn communication and problem-solving skills, which could then leave them at a greater risk for anxiety.

Newport Mental Health clinicians often practice the evidence-based and nationally recognized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT, strategies along with Exposure therapy with their clients diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Clinicians practicing CBT encourage clients to observe and challenge negative thoughts. Exposure therapy introduces clients to the anxiety-provoking situation in gradual steps. For example, if someone is fearful of shopping alone, they may start by choosing a small shop and visit it for a few minutes at a quiet time of day, while a friend waits outside in a car. Successive visits may be for longer times and fewer supports.

In study after study, researchers point to early treatment for anxiety as key to a higher quality of life among children and adult,s and, it could lead to happier, less stressful holidays in the future.

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