Pathways to recovery
Because anxiety is thought to be associated with our genetic inheritance, our personality traits, and exposure to anxiety provoking situations that have taught us to avoid certain things treatment often has to include approaches to change the way we think as well as possibly medication. Treatment can be given by your general practitioner (often a good person to start with), a psychologist or a psychiatrist. The treatment approach might include:
- Addressing the anxiety and the learned responses that are triggered by the fears using psychotherapy and social supports. This includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which aims to change irrational thinking patterns and promotes greater control in a person’s thinking, emotions and behaviour. Such therapy needs to be combined with ways of assisting the person to manage their particular symptoms, such as relaxation techniques, slow breathing techniques and hyperventilation control with changing the way that people think about anxiety provoking thoughts. All effective treatments will expose the person to their fears at some point either in their thoughts or by asking them to confront them, often in a very gradual way.
- Controlling changes in the activity of brain neurotransmitters. This is at least partially done with effective CBT but can also need medication in addition. The most effective and safe medications come from a group of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (eg Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro) but in fact any antidepressant can be an anxiolytic. Other medications used include benzodiazepines (eg., Valium or Serepax) and Xanax. These provide quick relief but can cause problems in the long term and are usually avoided for regular use. Other medications are occasionally used.
What can family and friends do to help?
- In addition to the specific interventions previously mentioned, there are many things friends and family can do to help:
- Always remember that clinical anxiety is a medical condition that requires medical treatment. Treatment is effective
- Find out as much about the illness as you can. Knowledge is power and gives you a much better chance of developing good coping strategies
- Be patient. People experiencing anxiety need to come to some insight regarding their illness. This is not always easy and takes time
- Know what to expect of the mental health system and be prepared to be assertive in seeking appropriate care
- Link in with community organisations that offer support and services that complement clinical services. They often provide educational programs, counselling and local support groups
- Remember to stay healthy yourself. Do not underestimate the impact of the illness on you. Acute episodes of anxiety often involve trauma and grief and have an impact on whole families. Be prepared to seek support to develop strategies that keep you well.