Program to Help Battle Anxiety Being Developed at the University of Virginia

Oct 19, 2016

Anxiety is a common state of mind.  Experts say one of every four people will develop a persistent problem at some time in their life, and getting help isn’t always easy.  Now, there is a free online program designed to help people overcome anxiety.

Some people turn to medication to treat anxiety, but psychologists say there’s a drug free way to overcome this potentially disabling condition.  At the University of Virginia, Professor Bethany Teachman says we can learn a new way of thinking.

“People who are prone to anxiety tend to imagine the worst possible explanations for things, so if I’m giving a presentation at work and in the middle of the presentation I notice that one of my colleagues yawns, I can either make an interpretation that this person is probably tired and didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night, or I can make a really negative interpretation and I can think, ‘This person thinks my talk is boring.  I’m doing a terrible job.  I’m an awful speaker.  I’m awful at this job.  Maybe I should just quit.”

And making such negative assumptions is often a habit for people who suffer from anxiety.  It can even become a medical problem.

“I could notice my heart is racing, and I could either think. ‘Oh, I probably just ran up the stairs quickly,’ or I can think ‘Wow, this is a sign of a heart attack.  I’d better get to the hospital and do something really drastic.”

It’s possible, of course, to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist for help, but that can be expensive, inconvenient and for some embarrassing.  That’s why Teachman and her colleagues developed a free online program called MindTrails.

Bethany Teachman, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is the director of MindTrails.
Credit University of Virginia / Dan Addison, University Communications

“We present people with lots of different brief situations and have them resolve those situations in ways that assign less threatening meanings.  We’re not always trying to get people to think positively.  Our goal is to increase the flexibility in the ways that people think.”

So far, more than 400 people have enrolled in the eight-session program.  It’s confidential, but mental health professionals monitor users’ progress to see if their symptoms are changing.  If anxiety continues to be a serious problem, MindTrails provides referrals to therapists who see patients in person. 

You can find out more about the project here