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Anxiety Grows Among Young, Oxford Therapists Help

Anxiety Fast Facts by Amy Rosenthal
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“I see a lot of anxiety,” said Allison Layton, a counselor at the Oxford Counseling Center. “Anxiety in college students and young adults – it’s wild. There are so many pressures that come from so many different angles.”

Layton, a marriage and family counselor, says that anxiety often stems from a lack of confidence or self esteem that comes from messages, either implicit or explicit, that we absorb from the experiences in our lives.

“If we never begin to push against those messages then they can manifest in anxiety,” she added.

Psychotherapist Leigh Ann Teague defines the condition in a similar way.

“Anxiety is an internal reaction to outside stress,” she said. Teague is in private practice in Oxford where she treats patients 13 years old and up.  She says she particularly loves working with college students and finds that anxiety is one of the top issues her clients face. “Probably 90% of the college students I see,” she added.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the group of people who are most commonly affected by anxiety disorders are adults under the age of 35. The ADAA also reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18 percent of the population.


Yet, it can be difficult for someone suffering from anxiety to reach out for help. One of Layton’s clients, a recent Ole Miss grad, initially resisted therapy.

“It was hard to open up at first,” she said, “but once I started going and got comfortable, I realized it was just a safe place to bring important things to light.”

The client, who has been out of school now for two years, sought counseling on the recommendation of a friend who saw her being overwhelmed by her emotions and unable to cope with them. She now attends counseling sessions once a week.

According to Layton, although genetic predispositions to anxiety exist, it is rare that anxiety is completely a genetic problem. When meeting a new client, Layton tries to identify the real source of the anxiety.

“I ask a lot of questions to find out where’s it coming from,” she said. “I kind of like to dig before I move into a prevention or coping plan.”

Both Layton and Teague embrace the use of practical tools to help their clients deal with anxiety. In some cases, that could mean thoughtful breathing and relaxation methods, in other cases, medication.

“I’m not against medication,” said Teague. “It can be very helpful in the case of true diagnosed clinical anxiety. But if you’re just dealing with anxiety, medicine is never my first course of treatment. I would rather meet 4 to 6 times, put some coping skills in place, teach some stress management techniques, and put those into practice.”

Layton also stresses coping skills first.

“What I usually do with clients is teach them how to distract, relax and cope,” said Layton.

According to Layton, anxiety is rooted in the amygdala of the brain, the source of our innate “fight or flight” protective mode. When anxiety comes on, cortisol levels rise, adrenaline pumps, palms sweat, hands shake, heart rate increases and thoughts race. “Your body is responding like you’re in danger,” she explains.

The physical impact is another reason to take anxiety seriously.

“Your emotions will come out, I promise. They can either come out of your mouth in a safe environment or they can come out sideways, and they affect your relationships and they affect your well being, your work life, they affect everything.”

So, how do you know when counseling is warranted?

“When regular anxiety starts affecting your daily life,” Teague said. “When the anxiety is so great that it’s affecting your sleep, your appetite, your mood, that to me is when you cross over from regular anxiety and stress that everyone feels to needing professional help.”

“I think everyone can benefit from therapy,” Layton added. “I don’t think everyone needs to go every week. But you tune up a car to make sure it’s still working properly, why don’t we do the same thing for our emotional health?”

Layton’s client agrees.

“It’s now kind of a highlight of my week,” the client said as she smiled and leaned back in her plush beige arm chair. “It’s a place where I can be completely myself and process through life and the things that cause me stress and anxiety.”


 Produced by Amy Rosenthal: acrosent@go.olemiss.edu.

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