Treat anxiety with a holistic lens
By Vanessa Eyre, Registered Psychologist (Qualifying)
Vanessa is new to the team at Our Clinic. She has an Honors Specialization in Psychology from King’s University College as well as a Masters in Counselling Psychology from Western University. Vanessa is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. She provides counselling to individuals with a wide range of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, interpersonal/family conflict, grief/bereavement, addictions, trauma/abuse, transition and more. Vanessa has experience working with diverse individuals from different backgrounds and from all walks of life. Her approach to counselling is holistic and she often integrates her background of yoga and mindfulness into her sessions with clients
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is something everyone will experience in their lives to varying degrees. Some individuals have the ability to manage anxiety without seeking professional support, while others will benefit from having support from a mental health counsellor.
Anxiety can be defined as feeling fearful, panicky, uneasy, and apprehensive. Anxiety can become problematic when these symptoms disrupt everyday life and activities. Furthermore, anxiety can be a stand-alone issue an individual faces or it can be connected to another mental health concern such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder1.
Anxiety manifests in a physical, mental/emotional and behavioural way. Below are some of the symptoms an individual may experience when faced with anxiety. It’s important to know that anxiety is a subjective experience and it differs in each unique person.
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pain/upset
- Heart palpitations
- Short breathing
- Body tension/tightness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling restless
- Obsessive thoughts
- Intrusive worrying
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Avoiding anxiety provoking situations
- Escaping anxiety provoking situations
- Engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviours to cope with anxiety (i.e. substance abuse)
Additionally, an individual may experience what’s called a panic attack. This is where an individual will experience a brief period of extreme anxiety, which feels incredibly overwhelming and uncomfortable1.
Considering anxiety affects our minds and bodies, it can be helpful to approach treatment for it through a holistic lens. What this means is approaching anxiety by looking more than just your mind but instead your physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. Additionally, taking a holistic approach to treating anxiety may help to prevent the relapse of symptoms in the future and promote an overall better ability to cope with the challenges individuals face in their lives.
Our Physical Selves
According to the research on anxiety, exercise is one of the ways individuals can cope with it. A recent study compared individuals who exercised regularly with those who didn’t. The results of the study found individuals who had a regular exercise routine experienced significantly less anxiety than those who didn’t2. Another study looked at the impact of practicing yoga on individuals’ experience of anxiety. The findings demonstrated that yoga significantly decreased individuals’ symptoms of anxiety, as well as any symptoms of depression. The study concluded that yoga has significant benefits for individuals’ overall wellbeing and can be used as a preventive and supportive alternative treatment for individuals facing anxiety and depression3. The results of these studies demonstrate one of the ways to help ease anxiety is by being physically active.
Our Mental/Emotional Selves
Scientific research has established that counselling and other psychological therapies can be just as effective or more than anti-anxiety medications4. One of the ways counselling can help is by talking about what makes you anxious and working through that with a trained counsellor. Additionally, the counsellor can offer different strategies and techniques you can use. Counselling is an effective way to process anxiety and the symptoms that individuals experience as a result of it5. Additionally, when considering the long-term healthcare costs associated with anxiety (i.e. missing work and pharmaceuticals), counselling can be a cost-effective deal to support individuals who experience it4.
One of the ways a counsellor might support an individual who experiences anxiety is through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a treatment approach that can be used to support individuals with a variety of concerns from depression to PTSD. The focus of CBT is to help an individual change distressing thought patterns, feelings or behaviours through various strategies and activities6. At this point in time there’s an abundant amount of scientific literature which suggests CBT is an effective way to support individuals who experience anxiety.
Meditation and mindfulness have become a popular alternative treatment for a variety of concerns including anxiety, depression, stress management, and improving overall physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. Mindfulness is a mental exercise where you engage in thoughtful concentration or contemplation about the present moment that results in a heightened sense of self-awareness.
One of the ways mindfulness can help is it supports calming down the nervous system, and as a result it brings a sense of mental relaxation and well-being. An aspect of mindfulness is focusing on deep diaphragmatic breathing, which promotes overall wellness. Additionally, mindfulness can bring a greater sense of self-awareness and as a result assists an individual with understanding their experience of anxiety and how to manage it. Furthermore, mindfulness is a grounding activity that can assist an individual in releasing disruptive thoughts.
Anxiety impacts us in a physical, mental/emotional and behavioural way. Overall, taking a holistic approach to resolving anxiety can promote a greater sense of physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. Individuals can use physical practices such as exercise and yoga, and mental/emotional ones like counselling, CBT and mindfulness as ways to cope.
1. Britannica Academic, s.v. "Mental disorder," accessed June 18, 2019, https://academic-eb-com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/levels/collegiate/article/mental-disorder/109830#32343.toc.
2. Alves, Dalton Gonçalves Lima, Sílvia Gabrielli Rocha, Evandro Vitor Andrade, Augusto Zbonik Mendes, and Ângelo Geraldo José Cunha. "The Positive Impact of Physical Activity on the Reduction of Anxiety Scores: A Pilot Study." Revista Da Associação Médica Brasileira65, no. 3 (2019): 434-40. doi:10.1590/1806-92220.127.116.114.
3. Rahimi, E., and S. Bavaqar. "Effects of Yoga on Anxiety and Depression in Women." British Journal of Sports Medicine44, no. 1 (December 17, 2010): 68-72. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2010.078725.227.
4. Research Group For Treatment For Anxiety And Depression. "Psychotherapies for Anxiety and Depression: Benefits and Costs." Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome20, no. 2 (2017). doi:10.4081/ripppo.2017.284.
5. Lilliengren, Peter, Robert Johansson, Joel M. Town, Steve Kisely, and Allan Abbass. 2017. "Intensive Short‐Term Dynamic Psychotherapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Pilot Effectiveness and process‐outcome Study." Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 24 (6): 1313-1321. doi:10.1002/cpp.2101.
6. Britannica Academic, s.v. "Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)," accessed June 26, 2019, https://academic-eb-com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/levels/collegiate/article/cognitive-behaviour-therapy/609313.