Don’t Let Anxiety Control Your Life | Jefferson Oaks Treatment Center

April 25, 2014
Recently, a few of my colleagues and I were at a breakfast where we found ourselves discussing the issue of anxiety in our youth. In the mental health profession, there are always hot topics or trending diagnoses. Anxiety disorders appear to be trending in all age groups, but expressly with adolescents and young adults. We know that the prescribing of anti-anxiety medications is on the rise. As I noted in my last article, there is considerable risk for physical dependence or abuse, overdose or even death, related to these medications. There are also more subtle ramifications to anti-anxiety medications. If as a society we begin to pathologize symptoms that are very normal reactions, then we stand the risk of creating an entire society of "sick" people. Directing our attention to the rise in the prescribing patterns of bezodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications), we find it can be a very short term solution that treats only the symptoms of anxiety. On the other hand, we believe the least invasive and more appropriate intervention would be psychotherapy. The psychotherapy can shift the focus from "illness” and towards normalization. This solution focuses on the goal of improving insight into triggers and improving coping skills for distress tolerance. When we look at anxiety, we see it is typically externally stimulated by perceptions. Anxiety is a very natural reaction to stress. The problem lies in our stress levels and our ability to tolerate distress. According to NIMH statistics, anxiety disorders diagnoses are at record breaking levels. Many are being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, etc. These trends in diagnoses are quite common at Jefferson Oaks. In fact, we have four separate groups offered for anxiety and managing anxiety throughout our programs. Nevertheless, the number of adolescents and young adults with anxiety diagnoses is alarming. This diagnosis often has a huge impact on the young person's academic functioning. There is a discouraging shift in this population, reporting that they are unable to attend school because of the severity of their anxiety and subsequent panic attacks. These young people are refusing to go to school/college and are subsequently at risk of failing or dropping out. This has left providers, therapists, educators, and parents with very limited options. The concern my colleagues and I share, is the long term consequences of a generation of people who are dropping out of school and are resorting to applying for a GED or to home school themselves. Parents are complaining of feelings of frustration, fear, and defeat. It is important that mental health providers, parents, and teachers be on the same page in giving the message of hope and recovery, not one of "illness" and "sickness,” to our youth. Many of the young people we work with feel much better after they realize that anxiety is a "normal" feeling and that we are actually supposed to experience anxiousness at times. This message can greatly improve their ability to manage their anxiety and decrease its impact on their school work and attendance. The therapists at Jefferson Oaks stress that "just because we have anxiety doesn't mean anxiety has to have power over us." By working through our anxieties, we get better. Often avoidance (not attending school because you're anxious) is NOT the best treatment for anxiety disorders. If you know of a student that is struggling with anxiety that is impacting their academic functioning, please encourage them to get to therapy so that they may gain the coping skills that can provide them with long term relief. We are always glad to help! Brandy Klingman, LCSW COO