Anxiety Treatment: Prevalence Rates & Treatment Pathways

Amongst all identified and classified mental health issues, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent. These include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobia-related disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. A recent American study estimated that 31% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life (ADAA, 2020). Research shows that a greater proportion of women will experience them (63% female to 37% male, Our World in Data, 2018) and that the age-group most susceptible are those between 30 to 44 years.

So what are the risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder? They include:

  • Stress.
  • Traumatic events.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Genetics.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Medical conditions e.g. heart issues / thyroid problems.
  • Presence of other mental health issues.

Anxiety Treatment: How do we identify an anxiety disorder?

Healthy or adaptive anxiety can be considered to be an appropriate response to a stressful situation that is solution-focused. In contrast, an anxiety disorder may arise where the response is no longer appropriate and the goal is avoidance or cut-off rather than seeking a solution. Symptoms that may be experienced include: 

  • Panic and uneasiness / a feeling of dread.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Shortness of breath/hyperventilation.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Dry mouth / nausea / tense muscles.
  • Rumination or intrusive thoughts.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Avoidance of feared activities, people or places.

Tackling Anxiety

There are several treatment pathways for chronic anxiety. Firstly, it is advisable to speak with a doctor to ensure that the problem is not related to physical health. Ideally, they will refer you to a suitable therapist or mental health professional. Where a chronic, debilitating anxiety disorder exists, short-term medication may be suggested. This level of anxiety can make it impossible for the sufferer to effectively think and feel at the same time. If we can’t think straight, we can’t formulate and adopt proactive strategies and coping skills for getting better. Anti-anxiety medications can therefore be useful in creating the mental space within which to undertake that work and are a potentially useful tool in tackling anxiety disorders but should not be adopted as a long-term solution without provision of any further intervention.

Once the client is ready, talk therapy can then assist them according to their needs. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a very effective method for managing anxiety wherein the individual learns to reframe anxiety or panic-inducing thoughts in order to defuse or contain those negative responses. They become better able to mentally step out of the situation to examine it and decide on a course of action rather than being immediately submerged in the anxiety. CBT is very solution-focused and can therefore be the most appealing option for someone suffering from chronic long-term anxiety. It places the onus on the client to do the work of catching, tracking, and changing their triggering thoughts. CBT is only one method at the Integrative Psychotherapist’s disposal however and as with any other presenting issue, the treatment pathway will be client-focused and client-led.

Colin Heffernan Counselling Ballintemple, Cork