Very few people can say they are getting through life without feeling anxious at some point or another. The feeling of fear or worrying about something or someone is universal, and many people can relate to this.
A person can be anxious over meeting a date for the first time or be worried about taking an exam they need to pass. They could be anxious while waiting for word on the outcome of a situation or be nervous because they are bored. In all of these situations, their anxiety could pass or wear off.
But the anxious feelings in these scenarios are not exactly the same as having a severe case of anxiety or an anxiety disorder. People whose fears or worries intensify and are intrusive to the point where they cannot keep their worries in perspective may have an anxiety disorder, especially if they struggle to move forward because of it.
As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shares, “For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.”
Anxiety disorders can make it hard for people to maintain healthy relationships or perform well in areas of their lives, such as at school or work.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) explains that anxiety is a stress response that plays a role in protecting us and alerting us to things that need our attention. However, anxiety that is out of proportion to a situation or hinders someone’s ability to function could mean an anxiety disorder is the problem.
There are different kinds of anxiety disorders. If a person has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), they could experience:
GAD is usually diagnosed if a person has had these feelings for at least six months or longer, according to Healthline, and VeryWell Mind says about 20% of people with anxiety actually seek treatment for their GAD symptoms.
Other anxiety disorders have signs and symptoms that describe the specific characteristics of the condition. The most common are:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): This disorder is characterized by having unwanted, intrusive thoughts that compel someone to engage in repetitive behaviors. The unwanted thoughts are obsessions, while the repetitive behaviors are the compulsions. Excessive cleaning, excessive hand washing, or checking of things, such as locks on doors, are examples of OCD.
Panic disorder: People with panic disorder experience episodes of overwhelming physical and psychological distress known as panic attacks. These attacks can be unpredictable, adding to a person’s anxiety about having them. “Panic attacks may occur with other mental disorders such as depression or PTSD,” the APA writes.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This disorder develops after a person experiences or witnesses a deeply traumatic event. PTSD can bring on highly intense and disturbing thoughts, feelings, dreams, and flashbacks that make it difficult for a person to move on after the traumatic event has passed.
Social anxiety disorder: People with social anxiety disorder are extremely uncomfortable with any situation they fear could bring them discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection. They will either work to avoid it or suffer through it, feeling anxious the entire time.
Phobias: Phobias are intense, lingering fears of an object or situation, or even an activity, the APA writes. Some people kn
As noted earlier, feeling anxious from time to time is a normal part of life. But for people with an anxiety disorder, however, the truth is it may never really go away.
APA says that while anxiety disorders are common, affecting nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives, it is treatable with various methods. Psychotherapy and medications can help people manage their anxiety disorder so that they can have sound mental health and well-being.
Untreated anxiety is something to watch for, as it can worsen over time and lead to unfavorable outcomes, such as making it very difficult for a person to live a normal life. Some people even turn to illegal substances and alcohol to self-medicate against anxiety. Self-medication can be dangerous. It can lead to addiction and other harmful behaviors.
Despite one’s attempts to manage anxiety, it can return at any time for various reasons. If you are under a great deal of stress, dealing with an unexpected turn of events, or if you have a medical condition, your anxiety could come back. Even if nothing is happening at the moment, anxiety can return if a person creates things to worry about.
Certain medications can also trigger anxiety to return, including those that were prescribed to treat anxiety in the first place. This is called rebound anxiety, which can return if a person quits a drug abruptly or has trouble withdrawing from anti-anxiety medication, such as a benzodiazepine like Xanax (alprazolam) or Klonopin (clonazepam).
Rebound anxiety is worse than the initial anxiety one receives treatment for. A person with this condition can experience insomnia, headaches, and other conditions. If you are experiencing rebound anxiety, rebound depression, or any other mental health condition that is affecting your ability to go about your daily life, consult with a medical professional who can look for long-term solutions.
There are some things you can do in the short-term to deal with anxiety. You can call a trusted friend or family member who can offer an ear and perhaps advice to help you adjust your perspective. Mayo Clinic advises lifestyle changes that can make it easier to manage anxiety. Among its suggestions are:
Staying physically active. Adopt an exercise routine that can help you keep stress in check.
Get sufficient sleep. Getting enough rest should be a priority, as it can help you feel refreshed to face the day and any matters that come up. If you are having trouble getting sleep, visit a doctor who may be able to help.
Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and smoking. All of these can contribute to high anxiety levels. Mayo Clinic also advises cutting back on caffeinated drinks.
Eat healthy meals, snacks. Consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and drinking water regularly can help you be kind to your body and adopt a wellness mindset.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. Finding time to spend in quiet meditation can lower stress levels, which can help you get a better handle on your anxiety. Yoga and other exercises that encourage mindfulness can also help you focus on addressing your fears head-on with a way of thinking that is beneficial to you.
If you are having a challenging time finding peace of mind, or if you struggle to stay calm and generally free from irrational worries or fears, you may want to consider seeking professional help for your anxiety.
Working with a professional has several benefits. First, you can have your symptoms examined and diagnosed properly so that you know what kind of anxiety you have. Based on your evaluation results, a mental health professional can advise you on the therapies and medications that can help you.
Part of managing a mental disorder is learning about it. With the right information in hand, you will be informed as you create strategies to help you manage your anxiety. There are a lot of resources you can use to help you.
A mental health provider should consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) when evaluating your symptoms. This helps ensure you receive the right diagnosis and treatment. It also rules out other possible causes of your condition.
When you meet with your medical or mental health provider, have questions ready as well as an account of what you have been experiencing. Your doctor will also ask you questions to help them understand your symptoms and how they affect you.
Psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy,” is widely used in addressing anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one therapy in this category. It helps people examine the link between their thoughts and behavior and identify those thoughts that are negative or unhealthy. CBT also helps people neutralize negative ways of thinking.
NIMH also says exposure therapy is another approach to helping people cope with an anxiety disorder.
“Exposure therapy focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding,” it writes.
If medications are prescribed, it is important to keep in mind that they are to alleviate symptoms of an anxiety disorder, not cure it, as NIMH notes. People who take medication for anxiety are usually prescribed a benzodiazepine for short-term treatment, an antidepressant, or a beta-blocker, which addresses the physical effects of anxiety.
All anti-anxiety medications should be taken under a doctor’s supervision, and all decisions to stop using them should also be made under a doctor’s care. Abruptly discontinuing medication can worsen one’s anxiety or bring on other health complications.
If you notice a change in your physical or mental state when taking medications, consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
(n.d.). What Are Anxiety Disorders? American Psychiatric Association. from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
Cherney, K. (2020, August 25). 12 Effects of Anxiety on the Body. from https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/effects-on-body#The-effects-of-anxiety-on-the-body
Deborah R. Glasofer, P. (2021, January 05). How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed Using the DSM-5? from https://www.verywellmind.com/dsm-5-criteria-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder-1393147
Anxiety disorders. (2018, May 04). Mayo Clinic. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350967