Dr. M. Joann Wright, director of anxiety services, Linden Oaks at Edward, encourages anxiety patients to “lean into” their fear, rather than try to eliminate it. | Submitted
Carol had good reason to be proud of the public speaking awards gracing her mantel. Three years ago her social anxiety disorder was so severe it caused her to avoid family gatherings. The mere thought of socializing caused her hands to sweat and her heart to pound. She finally decided she needed help when fear kept her from attending the wedding of a much-loved cousin.
Though Carol (not her real name) lives in another state, she heard about the anxiety program at Linden Oaks at Edward and decided to try it.
Anxiety disorders also include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and panic disorder. According to program director Joann Wright, the anxiety program offers treatment based on contextual behavioral science. In this approach, the patient is encouraged to “lean into” their fear, rather than try to eliminate it.
“We bring the person into full contact with what they fear, while giving them tons of compassion and support,” Dr. Wright says. “The result is usually an incredible sense of accomplishment. This full exposure is typically most effective, but there are some cases where the anxiety is so debilitating that a more gradual exposure is needed.”
Carol’s anxiety was based on fear of being embarrassed, so she was tasked with putting herself in an embarrassing situation.
“(Carol) went to a store plastered with signs reading, ‘No checks accepted,’” Wright says. “At the checkout, Carol whipped out her checkbook while a line formed behind her. The checker told her ‘We don’t accept checks.’ She then said, ‘I’ll write the check to you, and then pay with the money you give me.’ That idea was rejected, too. This experience was a turning point. Carol said, once she had actually experienced ‘making a fool of herself,’ she felt she could do anything.”
“Consider the analogy of a patient going to the doctor for a broken arm,” Wright says. “What if the doctor said, ‘I could set this for you, but that would hurt for about a minute or two so I’ll just cast it as is. This way, the treatment won’t hurt. Of course, you won’t regain full use of your arm.’ Our treatment for anxiety disorders might be painful for a short time, but the payoff is a lifetime of functioning.”
The program also features mindfulness meditation and exploration of personal values. In cases such as Carol’s, this might involve asking herself which is more important, building on connections to family or avoiding anxiety.
The Linden Oaks anxiety program offers separate intensive outpatient programs for adults and adolescents, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. There’s also a partial hospitalization program for adults 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The program includes individual, group and family therapy.
After her three weeks in the anxiety program, Carol returned home eager to continue the momentum begun in therapy. She decided to join the Toastmasters public speaking program. Today, she’s a paid public speaker.
AnxietyAware is a free, five-minute online screening to help identify your risk of an anxiety disorder. Fill out the confidential questionnaire at www.edward.org/anxietyaware to receive a personalized assessment and recommendations.
For more information about the Linden Oaks anxiety program, visit www.edward.org/anxiety.
Health Aware is a weekly column submitted to The Sun by Edward Hospital.