Overcoming anxiety with positive behaviour support

James Hourihan, Author

Anxiety can be defined as a feeling of unease, worry or fear. It is the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response when faced with a challenging situation such as a job interview or an upcoming exam.

However, anxiety isn’t all black and white. For some people, especially those  who have a history of trauma, developmental disabilities or present behaviours that challenge, anxiety can become more than just an occasional feeling. It can become a chronic condition that interferes with their daily lives.

Children, young people and adults have the right to receive support when it comes to managing anxiety and poor mental health. In light of Learning Disabilities Week, we want to help spread awareness and show the beneficial impact positive behaviour support (PBS) can have in responding to the needs of the individual and creating a safe, inclusive environment for everyone. 

Anxiety and disability 

For people with learning difficulties or limited communication skills, it is estimated that between 25 – 40% will experience mental health problems. These are often overlooked, misinterpreted, or underdiagnosed as a result of poor understanding and inadequate support, leading a person to display verbal / non-verbal challenging behaviours. 

That’s why it is so important for carers, staff and other people who work with vulnerable individuals to be aware of the reasons and triggers behind a person’s behaviour, and how complex feelings such as anxiety could be expressed, managed and overcomed. 

The types of anxiety disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, each with its own symptoms and characteristics. Five of the most common include:

Generalised anxiety disorder: Excessive worry and anxiety that lasts for six months or more. People with this condition may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and carrying out everyday activities.

Panic disorder: Sudden, unexpected episodes of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, sweating, and dizziness.

Social anxiety disorder: Extreme self-consciousness and anxiety in social situations which causes people to avoid social interactions altogether or they go through them with great distress.

Post traumatic stress disorder: Develops after someone has been through a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, or a violent attack. People with PTSD may relive the event through flashbacks and nightmares. 

Obsessive compulsive disorder: Persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions). People with OCD may feel the need to wash their hands for fear of germs repeatedly, for example. 

Anxiety disorders can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, life events and personality traits. Some people may be more susceptible to anxiety than others, however, it’s important to remember that anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, regardless of their age, gender, ability or background.

Getting support

Positive behaviour support (PBS) is a person-centred approach that helps both staff and individuals to understand and manage anxiety. It is based on the principle that all behaviour has a purpose, and that by understanding the function of a person’s responses, we can develop more effective, positive strategies to support them.

Learning how to recognise triggers and deal with anxiety-provoking situations in a positive way, without the use of restraint is an important part of this approach that we teach to staff and carers in the health, social care and education sectors. PBS interventions are tailored to each person’s needs and typically involve a team of professionals (psychologists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, and trainers) working together to develop and implement a PBS plan.

Over the years, we’ve started to see more and more organisations implement PBS approaches in reducing anxiety symptoms in both children and adults. A number of studies have shown that PBS can help people with anxiety disorders to reduce avoidance behaviours, improve social skills, and increase overall functioning.

Get in touch 

If you are interested in learning more about positive behaviour support, or if you think it may be right for you or someone you know who are supporting people struggling with anxiety, please speak to us about our positive behaviour courses today. 

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