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Providing Anxiety Treatment as a Baseline for Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety Is an Extremely Common Co-Occurring Disorder

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety commonly co-occurs with physical illness as well as mental illness. Irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders, headaches, fibromyalgia, and other physical ailments are just the beginning. Substance use disorders and eating disorders also commonly co-occur. With many debilitating illnesses causing or being caused by anxiety, it seems common sense that helping clients to cope with anxiety and treating it as a root of maladaptive coping mechanisms is essential to the mental and physical health of dual diagnosis clients.

How Anxiety Feeds Other Disorders

Anxiety symptoms can manifest in many harmful beliefs and behaviors, but a primary aspect of anxiety’s power is the avoidance of unpleasant stimuli.  Avoiding a negative or fear-inducing stimulus can take many forms, such as:
  • Refusing to go to a social event
  • Being absent at work on an important day
  • Avoiding specific foods
  • Misusing substances
  • Over-eating
  • Under-eating
  • Over-exercising
  • Over-spending
  • Extreme hygiene and cleanliness practices
  • Checking locked doors over and over
Unfortunately, the more we avoid a feared stimulus, the longer we believe it to be a threat. It’s easy to see that avoidance behaviors feed co-occurring disorders, and treating the source of the fear and worry could create a significant difference in treatment.

Holistic Coping Skills and Meditation Treatment as a Foundation for Success

Treating any disorder should have the primary goal of symptom reduction.  For a client struggling with anxiety, this often means alleviating the suffering associated with avoidance behaviors.  Giving the client skills, coping mechanisms, and education to help them to understand and manage their symptoms may provide a better quality of life. Combining mindfulness and other holistic treatments is an evergreen way to equip clients with tools to combat every trigger and hardship. Here are some suggestions to include in your next session with clients suffering co-occurring disorders: #1 Recommend an unprocessed, Mediterranean diet as a means of preventing irritability, restlessness, and stress. A Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy fats, unprocessed foods, and a balanced plate of meat and vegetables. This diet gives clients everything they need nutritionally while reducing stress-causing inflammation. Clients with anxiety often struggle to maintain a  balanced diet, eating a higher quantity of fat and sugar, contributing to the prevalence of disease amongst mood disorder sufferers. Food has such a profound effect on emotions that just getting correcting blood sugar issues can relieve mood symptoms. #2 Practice regular meditation with a focus on emotional mindfulness. In a study published by Cambridge University Press titled, “The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation: Changes in Emotional States of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress,” participants who completed a 10-week mindfulness program experienced symptom alleviation, with the most notable improvement being in those with severe symptoms. Through mindfulness and meditation, helping a client to face their demons, feel relief, and tolerate distress could be applicable for anyone who suffers the consequences of avoidance behaviors. #3 Encourage goal setting and planning practices. No matter the reason a client is in therapy, setting goals can help them to feel better about their situation and experience increased motivation to resolve conflict and problem solve. In a study measuring distress levels in college freshmen who created their own goals, compassionate goals eased distress because they provided meaning and increased expressions of support. Anxiety sufferers are more likely to create avoidance goals and are resistant to change; be sure to encourage the SMART goal tactic to increase client participation. #4 Recommend a gratitude journal. Research supports that showing gratitude can create a feeling of improved well-being and life satisfaction. There is also evidence that expressing gratitude reinforces recovery from substance use disorders. Focused journaling practice can create a willingness to continue using it as a tool; therefore encourage frequent and regular gratitude journaling.  Keep in mind that other forms of journaling have also proven effective in relieving anxiety; therefore, if gratitude journaling isn’t effective for a particular client, try other forms of journaling like positive affect journaling.

Why Does Treating Anxiety Treat Co-Occurring Disorders?

To summarize, there are many reasons why treating the underlying problem may provide relief for dual diagnosis clients. According to research, anxiety treatment helps with:
  • distress tolerance
  • avoidance behaviors
  • emotional mindfulness
  • maladaptive coping mechanisms
  • symptom management
  • treatment adherence
  • self-efficacy
Anxiety is an underlying and maleficent variable in many different disorders, so treating this root source of self-doubt and self-sabotage could create long-lasting effects for numerous disorders.  Overlooking anxiety in a dual diagnosis client may delay or inhibit positive therapeutic outcomes. Anxiety manifests in avoidance behaviors that are at the root of many dangerous disorders, including substance use disorders. Treating the avoidant aspect of anxiety and helping clients to manage symptoms and emotions can prove effective for many other kinds of disorders, especially if avoidance and emotional dysregulation are a factor. Dual diagnosis clients, however, are at an increased risk of major health issues and a lifelong struggle with their mental health. At Casa Recovery, our emphasis on treating dual diagnosis clients can set them on the path to recovery. If you are concerned that your clients may not be getting the level of care they need, Casa Recovery’s inpatient and outpatient options could provide the attention and motivation they need to achieve their treatment goals. To collaborate with Casa Recovery on creating a treatment that’s right for your client and put the client at the helm of their recovery call (888) 928-2272

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