Dealing with anxiety was the subject of a seminar at East Meadow’s Calvary Lutheran Church last Saturday. “Surviving and Thriving in Anxious Times” featured speaker Claudine Aievoli, a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Sound Mind Counseling in Merrick. The session focused on identifying and handling anxiety, especially, Aievoli said, in high-anxiety times like the coronavirus pandemic.
The Rev. Anthony Giordano, pastor of Calvary Lutheran, said that after a previous event called Hope Day, he realized that many people could use a seminar on anxiety. “It became very obvious that a lot of people struggle with anxiety and could use someone to explain to them how to handle it,” Giordano said.
“I love the title of this event,” Aievoli said as she began her presentation. “To survive means to continue to exist, but to thrive is to live life and to flourish and to develop well. I want to teach you to do both, and the way I do both is through my faith.”
Aievoli shared her thoughts and expertise on handling anxiety with clinical and practical applications. She used biblical characters who experienced anxiety as examples.
She defined generalized anxiety disorder and went on to discuss the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which professionals use to diagnose and classify mental disorders.
There are behavioral and physical symptoms of anxiety disorder, Aievoli said, including restlessness, fatigue, an inability to concentrate, irritability and even pain in the chest and difficulty breathing. “I’m looking for the severity and the frequency of anxiety symptoms to diagnose you,” she said, “but I always say labels are for jars, not people.”
Acknowledging and being aware of anxiety is one of the first steps in dealing with it, she said. And there are other ways in which those experiencing anxiety can help themselves. “I can’t prevent the bird from flying, but I can prevent the bird from coming into my hair, making a nest and staying there with all these negative thoughts,” Aievoli said. “I’m going to take those thoughts captive and tell them where to go. They’re not going to tell me where they go.”
There is also a genetic component to anxiety disorder, she said. The “worry gene” is in the brain’s hippocampus. Anxiety triggers the fight-or-flight response, which sends stress receptors to activate the body to fight or flee.
Aievoli recommends counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, and medication, if needed, if anxiety becomes overwhelming. She added that it is a common medical condition. “If the medicine is what you need, then it is what you need,” she said. “I take medicine for my thyroid condition, so if you need medicine for your anxiety condition, then you take it.”
She gave participants a packet that included an anxiety calmer list. It encouraged using the senses in the following ways: to hear music that is enjoyable; see a vision board or praise file; eat foods that are enjoyable; and touch things to ground oneself. Others helpful behaviors included exercise, reading and talking to people in your support system.
Susan Hensen said she found the seminar helpful. “This presentation helped me feel better about my anxiety,” she said. “I live alone, and I couldn’t see anyone during the pandemic because I was afraid, and I lost my sister, who lived out of state. The presentation hit on some points that I’m working on, like my faith.”
According to a Household Pulse Survey, the portion of the population that reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic rose from 36.4 to 41.5 percent.
“Without a doubt, Covid-19 has caused more anxiety,” Giordano said. “I’ve seen a tremendous uptick of anxiety just in my own congregation, between people losing loved ones and being concerned about getting sick and what that could mean. It created a level of anxiety that I have never seen.”
Aievoli said she had seen a spike in anxiety levels due to Covid-19 among her patients, in those who had never been anxious before as well as others who were already being treated for anxiety. “Always have a support system,” she advised. “Knowing that you’re not alone is different than just feeling alone.”