What to Know About Anxiety Treatment for Veterans
Maybe you suffered from anxiety before going into the military, or maybe it developed during your active-duty time, or it could even be that you’re feeling anxiety now even though you’re a veteran and haven’t been active for years. Regardless of when or how it started, you’re feeling the telltale symptoms of anxiety. This often includes excessive worry, hyperarousal, difficulty relaxing, and more.
There is treatment available for veterans like yourself who are facing anxiety. This article will teach you more about anxiety, how it presents itself, the common types that you might encounter, and treatment options.
What Is Anxiety?
Many mental health conditions can be summed up as either too much or too little of something. Anxiety by itself is a normal reaction for people when faced with stress. In fact, it’s a good thing overall because it allows us to react better to physically difficult situations, such as those that put us in danger.
Anxiety is a state of hyperarousal, nervousness, and fear. It gets your heart racing, puts you in fight-or-flight mode, and gives you the energy needed to combat dangerous situations.
In terms of healthy anxiety, this occurs when a dangerous situation presents itself and disappears shortly after. It might take several minutes or even several hours for your body to relax, but it goes away, and you return to normal. In terms of clinical anxiety, these fear reactions occur frequently and from situations that most people wouldn’t consider dangerous.
Anxiety, in this case, becomes the fearful anticipation of something bad happening. Your body and mind will react as if danger is coming, but since there is nothing definitive to escape or fight, your body continues to search for the enemy, and it can become difficult to live a productive life.
Those with diagnosable anxiety conditions will often feel muscle tension, occasional to frequent heart racing, fear, excessive worrying, avoidant behaviors, and ruminating thoughts. While fear is understood in truly dangerous situations, the levels of fear associated with an anxiety disorder are out of proportion to the situation.
Take, for example, speaking to a superior officer. Some level of fear is understandable. This is especially true if they unexpectedly come to see you or you recently messed up. Those with an anxiety disorder might experience excessive levels of fear, ruminating thoughts, and muscle tension for days before speaking to the officer and potentially for days after. It may also impact that person from performing other activities while feeling that level of anxiety, and it can prevent them from seeing other people.
Different Types of Anxiety
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, lists many different forms of anxiety. While they are all associated with heightened levels of fear and worry, each type of anxiety has a different presentation and set of symptoms. For example, some forms of anxiety cause a level of fear around many subjects, while others are only activated during specific situations.
The most common types of anxiety are:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Also called GAD, this means that you feel levels of worry and tension about a variety of subjects. There is often little in the environment to provoke these feelings, but they still manifest.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Also called OCD, this includes a cycle of obsessions, intrusive and distressing thoughts, and compulsions, or recurrent behaviors, that seem to ease the anxiety. This can create rituals where people are caught washing hands, flipping light switches, or counting for hours.
- Panic disorder: This causes unexpected episodes of extreme fear that can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or even fainting. The panic attack tends to come on suddenly and leave quickly, but the intensity often leaves people fearful of another attack occurring.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: Also called PTSD, this is well known amongst veterans. This develops after being exposed to a fearful event, such as physical harm being threatened or occurring. This makes the person experience fear and hyperarousal over sounds, smells, feelings, and anything else associated with the event.
- Social phobia: This causes feelings of worry and self-consciousness when around other people. Some people experience this only during certain situations, such as talking in front of others, while others experience it whenever they are around other people.
- Specific phobia: This is a type of anxiety that occurs only when exposed to a specifically feared stimuli, such as blood, dogs, or spiders. The level of fear experienced is far greater than what others feel in the same situation, and it can make it nearly impossible to be around the stimuli without treatment.
While these are the common types of anxiety, keep in mind that there are other types, such as selective mutism, separation anxiety, agoraphobia, substance-based anxiety, and so on. Getting proper diagnosis and treatment is the key to taking hold of your mental health.
Anxiety Treatment for Veterans
What type of treatment options are available for veterans with anxiety disorders? While anxiety is currently one of the most common mental health concerns, the good news is that there are many forms of treatment that are successful and based on evidence.
When working with a treatment team, be sure to tell your prescriber and therapist what is and isn’t working. This can help guide them to finding the right treatment approach for you. Not only that, but needs also change over time. You might find that one approach has benefitted you all that it can, and now you need something different.
Talk therapy is very useful for anxiety conditions as it can help you learn new ways to experience and cope with your anxiety. Perhaps the most commonly used form of talk therapy for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.
This form of therapy helps you understand your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors while also learning new ways to think and act. For example, you will learn about how your specific anxiety manifests, what you feel when it occurs, and how it causes you to react. You will then learn how to control it and new ways of coping with it.
There are many skills and tools under the CBT umbrella. Exposure therapy is commonly used with anxiety. This helps you slowly confront the anxiety-provoking stimuli while also helping you live a more productive life. You will also learn relaxation techniques to help you get through the anxiety until it is manageable.
Another form of talk therapy used for anxiety is acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT. This focuses on mindfulness to reduce feelings of worry and tension. You will learn to stay in the present moment. Goal setting is common in ACT as well, along with accepting your feelings and learning how to make them easier to live with.
Medications for Anxiety
In terms of medications, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly used. You might be surprised to hear that antidepressants are used to treat anxiety, but there is a reason for this.
Most antidepressants, such as Lexapro and Prozac, are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. This means that they work to increase the levels of serotonin in your brain. While this helps with depression, it can also improve anxiety as well. You will find that SSRIs improve your mood and make it easier to face fearful situations.
Anti-anxiety medications are most frequently benzodiazepines. Unlike antidepressants that take weeks to fully affect you, benzodiazepines are immediately effective. This includes medications such as Xanax and Klonopin. While they are immediately effective, they can also cause drowsiness, dizziness, and low energy. There is the danger of becoming physically dependent on them.
Medication can be very useful for veterans with anxiety conditions, but keep in mind that it will only treat the symptoms as long as you continue taking the medications. Talk therapy aims to change your thoughts and behaviors for a more lasting impact. It’s best to use both for the highest success rate.
Substance Use and Anxiety
Substance use is very commonly tied in with mental health conditions. For some people, they began using substances first, and this either caused anxiety or put them in harm’s way, which led to an anxiety condition. For others, they faced undiagnosed anxiety conditions and used substances to cope with the feelings.
Regardless of whether substances came before or after the anxiety, the truth is that the two are commonly linked. This is true for veterans and the general public.
You might be worried that you won’t be able to receive treatment for anxiety if you’re using substances. You might even think that it will be too difficult to treat you. The truth is that this commonly comes up, and a good treatment facility will have the resources needed to help you.
VeteransRehab.org can help you get the treatment you need for free. If you’re facing anxiety and substance use, then you can recover, and you can get back to living a fruitful life that you can be proud of. It’s simply a matter of getting help and getting back to your life.
Whether you’re using substances or just facing anxiety by itself, there are many treatment options available that can help you overcome your worrying thoughts and behaviors. Getting help can be the strongest and most courageous thing you’ve ever done. Contact us today, and let us help you get better.