COVID-19 has changed our lives. For some, the pandemic and resulting changes caused concern and disruption. For others, the illness and modifications to normal routines resulted in significant stress and anxiety. Consequently, the number of individuals seeking mental-health counseling for anxiety is on the rise. Bart Mongiello, LCSW, Outpatient Mental Health Services Director at Christian Health Care Center, answers some of the most prevalent questions regarding anxiety.

Is anxiety a normal part of life?

“Experiencing anxiety on occasion is normal. At one point or another, we all worry about job security, health-care coverage, mortgage payments, and/or family members. The anxiety is unpleasant, but temporary.Anxiety can also be a potentially beneficial response in anticipation of a dangerous situation. The physical symptoms come from your autonomic nervous-system response – the fight-or-flight reaction.”

When does normal anxiety transition to a serious mental-health condition?

“When anxiety becomes excessive and persistent, and causes disruption in daily living, the result is a mental-health illness called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD tend to face each day with exaggerated worry and tension, and anticipate disaster. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. They know that they worry more than they should, but have trouble controlling these constant worries. Nearly 7 million Americans age 18 and older suffer from GAD, and the number is rising because of COVID-19. This is not surprising. We’ve never experienced anything like COVID-19 in our lifetime.”

What are symptoms of GAD?

The most common symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, concentrating, and relaxing; feeling constantly tired; loss of appetite; irritability; headaches; muscle aches; stomach aches; trembling; twitching; excessive sweating; and frequent urination.

How is GAD diagnosed?

“When an individual has been experiencing symptoms for at least six months, GAD is diagnosed. Sometimes the diagnosis is delayed because GAD frequently co-exists with another mental or physical illness. Symptoms of the other illness may mask GAD. A person suffering from depression, for instance, often suffers from GAD as well.”

COVID-19 caused so much anxiety. What else causes GAD?

“While the exact cause of GAD is not known, chemical imbalances in areas of the brain involved with fear and anxiety, as well as genetics, can play a role. GAD tends to develop gradually and can occur at any age. COVID-19 accelerated the progression of GAD in many people.”

How is GAD treated?

“At Christian Health Care Counseling Center, a psychiatrist provides initial and ongoing  psychiatric assessments. For some people, the illness can be effectively treated with therapy. Psychotherapy involves working on thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps to restructure negative thought patterns or behaviors into positive ones.  Group therapy is also an option. Faith may be integrated into treatment, if requested by an individual. Treatment for some people also includes medication to alleviate intense symptoms. The client’s psychiatrist will also provide initial and ongoing medication assessment.

Length of treatment is based upon the individual and his/her progress. Some people respond to short-term treatment, while others may need a more long-term program. In all cases, the earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.”

How prevalent is anxiety among children and teens?

“Anxiety disorders are present in 13 out of 100 youngsters. Like adults, it’s normal for youngsters to experience anxiety at some stage, when it begins to severely impact well-being and lifestyle, professional help may be needed.”

What are symptoms of anxiety in the younger population?

“Symptoms among youth mirror those in adults. In some children, symptoms can also include refusing to go to school, striving to a perfectionist, or becoming overly conforming or unsure of themselves.”

Does Christian Health Care Counseling Center provide services for children and teens?

“Last year, we cared for nearly 400 children and adolescents. Here, individualized treatment is provided by a team of dedicated psychiatrists and therapists, and, similar to adults, can include therapy, medications, or a combination of both. Family therapy is also an option for certain youngsters. Our staff continues to develop advanced therapeutic techniques and clinical interventions to benefit the families we work with.

A special component of our program for youth is our designated child and adolescent area. Parents and their children feel more comfortable here. Children, especially, need space to play during an appointment, and adolescents like privacy while waiting. This special area is beautiful and large, and offers privacy, safety, and a gentle, caring setting.

Children are immensely resilient. They’re a population which tends to have very good outcomes.”

 At Christian Health Care Center, anxiety is treated across our continuum of mental-health care, from our outpatient counseling for all ages, to our partial-hospitalization program for adults, to our inpatient hospital for adults and seniors. For more information about mental-health services at Christian Health Care Center, contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or khockstein@chccnj.org, or visit ChristianHealthCare.org.