Anxiety is characterized by a sense of fear, worry, or dread about the future. Under normal conditions, severe anxiety affects at least 40 million people in the United States each year. With the disruption to routine and uncertainty about the future that the current COVID-19 pandemic brings, that number is likely much higher.
Of those millions, only around a third tend to receive mental health treatment for the disorder. The reasons for this tendency to not seek help are varied. Some are unaware that relief from the anxiety is possible. Others are prohibited from seeking therapy for their anxiety due to time and transportation difficulties. During the social distancing which is taking place during the pandemic, people with anxiety may be under the impression that there are no therapy appointments available.
There is good news for all of those who cite these reasons for not seeking therapy for their anxiety. Recent regulations have expanded the ability of therapists to provide the much-needed support from a safe social distance. The practice of providing therapy through phone calls, video conferences, and the internet is rapidly gaining in popularity during our current times.
Characteristics of Anxiety Disorder
Feeling anxious is a normal part of being human. Anxiety is the mechanism that the body uses to motivate us to escape danger. It is part of the flight-or-fight response which was present in our ancestors. It helped them to run from roaming predators and to defend their resources from warring tribes.
With the advance of modern society, it is not often that we find ourselves in a position to defend from physical danger. Rather than our tendency to feel anxious disappearing with societal evolution, it simply changed forms. Now, our anxiety tends to focus on intangible, psychological, dangers. We are more prone to experience anxiety about factors such as social esteem, relationship quality, credit card bills, and deadlines.
What our ancient anxieties and our current ones continue to have in common is that they are related to the possibility of future events. Humans have an innate tendency to attempt to predict the future based on the information gathered from the past. If you have observed your clansman being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, you might predict that it will similarly attack you. If you have observed your coworker being laid off, you might reason that your job security is also in danger.
Where anxiety goes wrong is when predictions are made without the actual basis for the fearful motivation. When this inaccurate assessment is combined with a lack of concrete plans for eliminating the threat, an anxiety disorder is born. A diagnosable anxiety disorder is characterized by uncontrolled and unmitigated worry about the possibility of multiple, intangible, dangers. This pent up flight or fight response of an anxiety disorder can disrupt the ability to function normally, including contributing to disregulation of sleeping patterns, the inability to concentrate, and a lowered immune system.
Factors Contributing to Anxiety During COVID-19
The conditions under which anxiety levels rise during our current pandemic are quite unique. While there are many portions of the population who are already accustomed to the need to manage anxiety about health issues, and many who routinely struggle with anxiety related to the economy, this situation has brought these particular worries to the masses. Even those with good health and financial stability are now feeling the stresses of that security being threatened. The contagious virus may be lurking around every corner, the prices of food are going up, and the fluctuating stock market has made retirement plans uncertain.
Anxiety thrives in situations involving uncertainty and a lack of control over environment. The COVID-19 pandemic provides both of these conditions. Not only is that anxiety heightened in our personal inability to engage in normality, we can be additionally unsettled by hearing that our trusted governmental leaders are also at a loss for explanations and solutions. Our health, finances, and basic necessities are at risk, and no one is quite sure when the threat will be over.
Online Treatment for Anxiety
Talk-based therapies have a proven track record for reducing anxiety. Together with your therapist, you are assisted in defining the underlying factors which fuel your anxiety. You will learn practical ways to reduce the effect of such factors on your mental health, such as through applying new perspectives and practicing new coping skills. Sometimes, simply talking about your fears with an empathetic and knowledgeable ear is what begins the path to relief.
The expanded availability of telemental health (TMH) services during the current crisis is a perfect fit for talk therapy. Telemental health refers to any mental health support which occurs from a distance, and distance from each other is what is being called for during this time. Therapists are increasingly offering telephone, video conference, and online platforms for receiving timely and effective treatment toward relieving symptoms of anxiety.
With online therapy, your sessions can be scheduled at a time that is convenient for you. With many people currently staying home with children, the convenience of being able to schedule a therapy session during nap time or during the quiet evening hours mean the difference between being able to complete a session, or not. Likewise, online therapy sessions provide the convenience of not having to leave the home in order to attend. This means that social distancing guidelines can still be followed while receiving treatment. Having a professional available to talk with you while you are social distancing or self-isolating can go a long way toward relieving the anxiety that is related to being housebound.
An increased availability of remote services in the mental health field may have been spurred on by the necessity of social distancing, but the positive outcome is likely to remain long after we return to a sense of normality in the country. With the expanded regulations and directive for many insurance companies to reimburse telehealth services, it is likely the case that online thearpy will be an increasingly popular choice for years to come.