Accepting Anxiety: Worries Can Be Helpful

By Jessica Jeffers

Your mind is racing. You have trouble sleeping or concentrating. Maybe you’re nauseous or your heart palpitates. You’re worried about everything, no matter how big or how small. As anyone who experiences anxiety can tell you: it’s not fun.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 40 million American adults are affected—that’s nearly 18% of the adult population. Anxiety disorders come in many different forms, but they all involve excessive amounts of worry.

One thing that’s easy for many people to forget is that anxiety is actually normal–in small doses. As Bret A. Moore describes in his book Taking Control of Anxiety, many people come to therapy with the unrealistic expectation that they can be rid of their worries entirely. “Trying to eliminate anxiety from your daily experience will leave you feeling frustrated and defeated,” Moore points out. “The key is [to learn] how to manage your anxiety through self-regulation, understanding, and acceptance.” Therefore, the goal of therapy typically is to learn techniques for keeping anxiety under control.

Anxiety evolved in humans primarily as a defense mechanism. It alerts us to potential dangers in our environment and encourages us to respond to these dangers. In this way, it’s an important response to potentially life-threatening situations, such as walking down a dark alley at night or encountering a bear while hiking. Worry becomes problematic, however, when it outweighs the actual amount of danger that is present and when it causes disruptions in your life.

Everyone experiences some level of worry about any number of issues. And these worries can serve a variety of functions that can actually be helpful. For instance:

  • Some anxiety can lead to improved performance. If you’re worried about a big test, an important job interview, or leading a presentation, it’s likely that you will study harder or practice more. That preparation could mean that you end up doing better than you otherwise might have.
  • Anxiety can serve as a motivator. Being anxious doesn’t feel good and most people who are experiencing anxiety focus on what they can do to reduce those feelings. This desire can often serve as the catalyst to change behaviors or situations that aren’t working.
  • People who struggle with social anxiety are excessively concerned about what people might think of them. You don’t want this concern to get in the way of building relationships with others or pursuing goals, but at the same time it can help you become more attuned to the other person’s needs or wants.
  • Visible physical responses to anxiety can serve as a means of communication. It can let others know that you aren’t comfortable, that you need help, and signs such as blushing or stammered speech can even indicate attraction to others.

Of course, excessive worrying can also have negative effects, like hesitation, confused thinking, and poor communication. The trick, as Moore puts it, is to find the right balance for you–which isn’t necessarily the right balance for others. Whether you’re doing it on your own or with the guidance of a mental health professional, part of taking control of anxiety involves finding that balance.

 

References

Moore, B.A. (2014) Taking control of anxiety. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.) Any anxiety disorder among adults. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml.

 

What is Geropsychology?

David BeckerBy David Becker

Aging is a fundamental part of being human. Although we all wish to live long and prosper—as the saying goes—and to continue enjoying the good things in life, the realities of aging can be daunting. Our bodies and minds weaken as the years wear on, rendering us more susceptible to medical problems like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. We also find ourselves coming to terms with mortality as our loved ones and the cultural icons of our youth pass away.

Geropsychologists aim to understand the aging process as it relates to mental health.  Practitioners in this area help older adults negotiate these challenges and improve their mental health and overall well-being.

Even though the aging process has been a subject of contemplation throughout human history, geropsychology itself is fairly new. Belgian scholar Adolphe Quetelet is credited as the first to write about aging from a psychological perspective in his 1835 treatise Sur l’homme et le développement de ses facultés (which translates to English as On Man and the Development of His Faculties; Birren, 1961).  However, geropsychology didn’t really start to flourish until after World War II. This rise was marked by the founding of both the Gerontological Society of America and APA’s Division on Adult Development and Aging in 1945. Only just recently, in 2010, did APA officially recognize geropsychology as a specialty area of practice. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) also began granting board certification in geropsychology in December 2014.

Some have suggested that the slow emergence of this field may have to do with pseudoscientific myths about aging that persist in the public consciousness, accompanied by the fact that geropsychology brings us face-to-face with uncomfortable realities that we might otherwise prefer to avoid thinking about (Birren & Schroots, 2000).

GeropsychologyThe most significant reason for geropsychology’s recent emergence is undoubtedly the rising population of older adults. According a December 2015 report by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), there are currently 46 million adults age 65 or older living in the U.S., which is more than a twofold increase from 1960 when there were less than 20 million adults that age. The PRB expects this growth trend to continue in the next 50 years, estimating that this figure will more than double to 98 million in 2060. This increase in the 65+ population means that mental health practitioners will be seeing more and more older clients in the coming years.

Although adults in their 60s and 70s are generally quite healthy thanks to modern medicine, clinical psychologist Patricia Areán (2015) notes that older adults still face a number of unique health issues that require specialized care and that most mental health practitioners lack the knowledge and expertise to adequately address these needs. Clinicians working with older adults are also more likely to encounter a number of unique ethical dilemmas (Bush, Allen, & Molinari, 2017). When treating clients with dementia who have limited decision-making capacities, for instance, it can be challenging to balance the need to respect their autonomy with the need to assure their welfare, especially when outside parties like family members and other healthcare professionals are involved.

The recent emergence of geropsychology, therefore, is a matter of necessity that has also been accompanied many new advances in the last decade. One of the most noteworthy contributions is the Pikes Peak Model for Training in Professional Geropsychology, which has helped define the attitudes, the knowledge, and the skills that are necessary to become a competent geropsychologist (Karel, Molinari, Emery-Tiburcio, & Knight, 2015). APA also recently revised its Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Older Adults in 2014. With this rapid expansion of clinical knowledge, mental health practitioners will be well-prepared to meet the special needs of the growing population of older adults.

 

References 

Areán, P. A. (2015). Treatment of late-life depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse. https://doi.org/10.1037/14524-000

Birren, J. E. (1961). A brief history of the psychology of aging. The Gerontologist, 1, 69–77. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/1.2.69

Birren, J. E., & Schroots, J. J. F.  (Eds.). (2000). A history of geropsychology in autobiography. https://doi.org/10.1037/10367-000

Bush, S. S., Allen, R. S., & Molinari, V. A. (2017). Ethical practice in geropsychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/0000010-000

Karel, M. J., Molinari, V., Emery-Tiburcio, E. E., & Knight, B. G. (2015). Pikes Peak conference and competency-based training in professional geropsychology. In P. A. Lichtenberg, B. T. Mast, B. D. Carpenter, & J. L. Wetherell (Eds.), APA handbook of clinical geropsychology: Vol. 1. History and status of the field and perspectives on aging (pp. 19–43). https://doi.org/10.1037/14458-003

Open Pages: May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

APA Books Open Pages is an ongoing series in which we share interesting tidbits from upcoming books. Find the full list by browsing the Open Pages tag.

Thank you, President Obama, for proclaiming May 2016 as National Mental Health Awareness Month.

mental health awareness

Check out President Obama’s comments on Mental Health Awareness Month by clicking the ribbon above!

“I learned in graduate school that schizophrenia is the kiss of death. In the 1980s, most professionals accepted Emil Kraepelin’s (1987) description of the illness as a progressive downhill course where people ultimately end up in state hospital wards, unable to care for themselves. Grim prognoses for individuals with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses cast a wide pall; treatment was largely custodial, focusing on symptom management.  Poor outcomes were thought to reflect the person’s inability to understand illness and interventions; hence, adherence to treatment became a first principle.  My job was to help patients by hook or by crook take their medications and protect them from the unreasonable goals that would lead to relapse.  “Unreasonable” goals typically included those that led to work or independent living.

I learned from people who had these illnesses that most of what we believed to be true was wrong. Kraepelin’s assertions made more than 100 years ago were replaced by long-term follow-up research that showed that most people with even the most serious of mental illnesses recover.  Beyond the research, however, were lessons learned from people who had been challenged by significant illness and restrictive treatments but still achieved goals they set for themselves.”

From “Person-Centered Care for Mental Illness: The Evolution of Adherence and Self-Determination,” edited by Patrick W. Corrigan (pp. 3–4).