Our time on earth is far too short to be sidetracked by needless, counterproductive worry, yet every day, millions allow stress-inducing thoughts and emotions to manipulate their actions, or lack thereof. Severe anxietydisrupts every aspect of daily living,severely handicapsproductivity, and if not treated early in life, can lead to an array of serious physical health problems later on.
We have learned that those with autism often stand victim to excessive anxiety and that many problematic behaviors found in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) mirror those in anxiety disorders. Applied behavior analysis can be used to treat anxiety for young children with ASDs through the development of a thorough behavior intervention plan. On the other hand, with appropriate modifications, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)iseffective in treating most people with anxiety or depression as well as individuals who are moderate or high functioning on the autism spectrum. It teaches relaxationstrategies, such as deep breathing and mediation, as well as developmental skills commonly taught in ABA, such as social skills, cognitive reasoning, planning and perspective taking.
When combating chronic anxiety, in mostneurotypical cases, Americans turn to prescribed medication, often in the forms of selective serotonin or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs), which block re-absorption of specific neurotransmitters responsible for producing pleasure in the brain. While they canprovide lasting relief if taken under the strict supervision of a psychiatrist, anti-depressants have their fair share of risks, and should only be viewed asa means to an end. Nearly all anti-anxiety medicationsharbor harmful side effects, such asheadache, nausea, drowsiness, insomnia, heart palpitations, and loss or gain in appetite. If the dosage is cut off or reduced without theguidance of a medical professional, impairingwithdrawal symptoms will occur, which can heighten the existing anxiety to a worse level than before the medication was originally prescribed.
Fortunately, there are several healthy, affordable alternatives to stop anxiety from taking control. One of them is the ability to keep distracted from thoughts that create anxious feelings. The simple act of staying busy by engaging in daily chores and planned activities is a useful coping mechanism as the brain steers its focus away from thoughts that trigger anxious feelingsand concentrates on the current task at hand.
A strong support group is another indispensabletool, not to be confused with a therapy group, which is often applied in CBT. The simple act of sharing concerns to a loyal and reliable network of friends, relatives, and loved ones is a guaranteedbuffer against anxiety. As humans, we are a social species and thrive on communication. It’s in our nature and best interest to talk about personal dilemmasto those we can trust and those who have a mutual understanding about our ailments. “Support groups vary significantly,” says one source,“Some meet at the same place consistently and follow a loose structure, while others meet at different times and locations to do fun and social activities as a group. Some people find it supportive and comforting to spend time socially with others who also experience social anxiety and may better be able to understand what they’re going through.”One of the key reasons to stay in close contact with a support group is to prevent isolation. Frequent solitude is both a symptom and a cause ofcertain anxiety disorders that invoke avoidance ofpublic settings and situations, such as agoraphobia.
The last coping strategy, my personal favorite, can be practiced anywhere at any time. When a support group is out of reach, reciting positive affirmations is an excellent way to ease the tension. These words are meant to be said alone and are the secular equivalent to a heartfelt prayer. I recite positive affirmations on a frequent basis, and no matter how trivial they may seem, they can be the determining factor between a good day and a day filled with irrational worry. If said continuously with meaning and emphasis, these spiritually uplifting phrases cansignificantly boostoverall mood and energy.They canbeworded in several ways – ascompliments, inspirational quotes or three-word sentences as simple as “I am happy,” and “I am calm.”
Whether by means of therapy, support groups, or affirmations, the primary goal in successful anxiety treatment is to faceand confront the source behind the nervous reactions. This source can be an unpleasant place or a traumatic past event, but it is most commonly referred to by one name: fear. Fear is an aversive force that distorts one’s judgment and perceptions of reality. It is the source behind negative impulses like temptation, jealousy, greed, envy and hate. Yet for every force in this universe, there exists a retracting polar opposite, and the opposite of fear is love. Appropriate treatment for anxiety will help us extinguish our fears, learn to love who we are and what we expect in life, and to acquire the motivation to meet those expectations.
I wish the very best in health, mind and spirits to those currently struggling with anxiety disorders. The next time asudden yet familiar nervous twitch approaches, keep this quote from an anonymous poet in mind;“Love is that which enables choice. Love is always stronger than fear. Always choose on the basis of Love.”