“Needless anxiety and stress cannot burden us if the thoughts don’t enter our mind. And fortunately, we are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. When you’re aware of only what you’re working on and the sensations of your body, conscious worry is not possible.” – Jordan Bates
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 3.1% of the U.S. population. GAD involves excessive worry about everyday problems. People with GAD may excessively worry about and anticipate problems with their finances, health, employment, and relationships. They typically have difficulty calming their concerns, even though they realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. Physically, GAD sufferers will often show excessive fatigue, irritability, muscle tension or muscle aches, trembling, feeling twitchy, being easily startled, trouble sleeping, sweating, nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches.
Anxiety disorders are not only a torment for the victims but they also place tremendous pressure on the health care system. People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders. Anxiety disorders are treatable but only about a third of the sufferers get treatment. The most common treatment for GAD is drugs. Anxiolytic drugs are some of the most prescribed drugs in the U.S. Psychotherapy is another common form of treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy particularly effective. Mindfulness practices are known to reduce anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/11/02/be-open-or-focused-in-meditation-to-reduce-anxiety/, http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/the-mindfulness-cure-for-social-anxiety/, http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/), and appear to do so by altering brain activity (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/13/get-the-brain-to-reduce-anxiety-with-meditation/).
The problems with these treatments is that drugs can have very troublesome side effects and psychotherapy can be expensive and time consuming. Therapy also demands that there be a qualified professional in the immediate area and the patient has the time and transportation available to attend therapy sessions. So, there is a need for cost-effective, convenient, and safe alternative treatments.
One way to lower costs and make therapy available for patients over wide geographical areas is to deliver therapy over the internet. In today’s Research News article “Internet-delivered acceptance-based behaviour therapy for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial”
Dahlin and colleagues developed a form of mindfulness based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for delivery by a therapist over the internet. They recruited participants with GAD over the internet and assigned them randomly to either receive therapy for 9-weeks or to a waiting list control condition. They found significant improvement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression for the therapy group with large to moderate effect sizes. These improvements were still present 34-weeks later.
These are exciting results. Anxiety disorders are so prevalent and so infrequently treated that it’s important to demonstrate that a safe and effective therapy can be inexpensively delivered over the internet. This opens the door to widespread access to safe, convenient, effective, and inexpensive treatment. Future trials should employ a more active control condition and open up treatment to a wider array of GAD sufferers.
Mindfulness practices have a number of effects that appear to be helpful with anxiety disorders. They have been shown to improve emotion regulation. This allows the individual to experience the anxiety but react to it in a constructive way and thereby preventing an upward spiraling of anxiety as the patient becomes more anxious of becoming more anxious. Mindfulness practices also appear to blunt physiological and psychological reactions to stress. Since, high levels of anxiety are stressful, mindfulness practices may reduce the reactions to this stress, making the anxiety more bearable. Finally, anxiety involves worries about the future. By focusing the individual on the present, mindfulness practices interrupt worries about the future.
Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is effective for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) even when delivered over the internet.
So log-on for less anxiety with mindfulness.
“I confessed to him that I saw breathing exercises as an attempt to distract. He said, “Yes. It’s a tool. Mindfulness is all in the subtleties.” Then he paused and told me, “Instead, when thoughts and feelings come, you simply say to them ‘Hello. I see you. Welcome.’”” – Lucy Roleff
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies