The silhouette of a head pointing left is made up of black and blue hands. Above the head reads "spotlight on," and in the head reads "teen mental health."

Expert offers tools for handling fear, worry, panic and obsessive thinking.

By Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer

Anxiety is invisible, yet it can ravage the lives of those who suffer from it. Anxiety can make a seemingly simple task, such as phoning a doctor’s office to request a prescription refill, seem daunting. Raising a hand in class to answer a question or being invited to a party or social function may cause paralyzing fear.

According to statistics from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety affects approximately 40 million people in the United States. Most people develop symptoms before age 21, which means many teens and young adults are struggling with anxiety during a time that is already rampant with physical, social and emotional changes and challenges.

“Anxiety hurts,” said Dr. Carolyn Daitch, clinical psychologist, author and director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Farmington Hills. “It destroys the normal enjoyment of life through fear, worry, panic and obsessive thinking.”

Dr. Carolyn Daitch

While anxiety does not have a specific cure, the good news is there are many effective ways to manage it. Daitch presented some practical solutions in a recent program called “Practical Tips for Curbing Anxiety” co-sponsored by the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House and Core Learning Inc., a Birmingham-based provider of educational resources.

“We need to learn we have resources within and without,” Daitch told an audience comprised of parents, teens, adults of all ages and mental health professionals.

She described the main types of anxiety disorders: general anxiety, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder and phobias. Anxiety is often accompanied by other conditions such as depression and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Those who suffer from anxiety often experience physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, dizziness and shortness of breath. This is especially true of people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder.

“Our bodies are a file cabinet for our minds,” Daitch said.

Jolie Banooni, 18, has struggled with anxiety since she was 11 years old. The Bloomfield Hills teen came to the presentation with her grandmother, Lila Zorn of Farmington Hills, to learn new techniques for managing her anxiety.

“It affects my everyday life,” said Banooni, who also experiences panic attacks and social anxiety in public settings. “I worry about every little thing.”

During one segment of the presentation, Banooni volunteered for a demonstration of a therapeutic technique Daitch uses in her practice. After several minutes, which included breathing exercises and repetitive movement, Banooni felt calmer and less anxious.

Healing Techniques

Daitch uses a variety of tools and treatment modalities, individually and in combination, depending on what works best for each patient at each stage of therapy.

Clinical Hypnosis: Daitch describes hypnosis as “daydreaming with a purpose.” She said people fear hypnosis will cause them to lose control, but this is a misconception. When performed by a therapist who is specifically trained in this area, hypnosis can help patients reduce anxiety and develop self-calming tools they can carry into their daily lives.

Mindfulness: Increasingly used by therapists to treat a variety of conditions, mindfulness is especially effective for reducing anxiety. Daitch defines mindfulness as “paying attention to the present without judgment.” For example, acknowledging a feeling of fearfulness can keep a person from identifying with the fear.

“Remember that thoughts, feelings and sensations are transitory,” Daitch said. “Staying with a sensation, like a headache, will (eventually) diminish it.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy includes learning to catch negative thoughts as they arise and replacing them with positive backtalk.

Daitch gave examples of cognitive statements for managing uncertainty, such as, “There’s the uncertainty, but it’s part of life and I can handle it. I have resources if things go wrong.”

Postponement: This is a technique wherein a patient puts worrisome thoughts aside and relegates them to a specific “worry time.” Some people find it helpful to write their worries on slips of paper and put them into a “worry box” to be taken out at a designated time.

Gratitude: Anxiety and gratitude are incompatible, according to Daitch. Keeping a gratitude journal or daily list of things to be grateful for helps people focus on the positive things

Jolie Banooni and her grandmother Lila Zorn

that happen each day instead of worrying about what might go wrong.

Daitch also recommends relaxation techniques, such as slow breathing, to help lessen anxiety.

“Relaxed muscles send messages to the brain that everything is OK,” said Daitch, who also warns against using alcohol to reduce anxious feelings. “Alcohol worsens anxiety; there is a rebound effect.”

Banooni felt that working one-on-one with Daitch was a positive experience.

“I 100 percent got something out of it,” said Banooni, who is studying social work at Oakland Community College and aspires to be a cantor someday. “I appreciated what she said about mindfulness.”


Click here for Aerin Fink’s story on conquering anxiety

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