Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.
Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.
Whatever form of anxiety you have, treatment can help.
Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.
An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.
It’s normal to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious or nervous if you have to tackle a problem at work, go to an interview, take a test or make an important decision. And anxiety can even be beneficial. For example, anxiety helps us notice dangerous situations and focuses our attention, so we stay safe.
But an anxiety disorder goes beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear you may feel from time to time. An anxiety disorder happens when:
- Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
- You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
- You can’t control your responses to situations.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
TYPES OF ANXIETY DISORDER
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
- GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
With GAD, you may feel extreme and unrealistic worry and tension — even if there’s nothing to trigger these feelings. Most days, you may worry a lot about various topics, including health, work, school and relationships. You may feel that the worry continues from one thing to the next.
Physical symptoms of GAD can include restlessness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping problems.
- PANIC DISORDER
If you have a panic disorder, you get intense, sudden panic attacks. These attacks often feature stronger, more intense feelings than other types of anxiety disorders.
The feelings of terror may start suddenly and unexpectedly or they may come from a trigger, like facing a situation you dread. Panic attacks can resemble heart attacks. If there’s any chance you’re experiencing a heart attack, go to the emergency room. It’s better to err on the side of caution and have a healthcare professional check you.
During a panic attack, you may experience:
- Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is pounding).
- Chest pain.
- Feeling of choking, which can make you think you’re having a heart attack or “going crazy.”
Panic attacks are very upsetting. People with panic disorder often spend a lot of time worrying about the next panic attack. They also try to avoid situations that might trigger an attack.
Phobias are an intense fear of certain situations or objects. Some of these fears may make sense, such as a fear of snakes. But often, the level of fear doesn’t match the situation.
Like with other anxiety disorders, you may spend a lot of time trying to avoid situations that may trigger the phobia.
A specific phobia, or a simple phobia, is an intense fear of a particular object or situation. It may cause you to avoid everyday situations. Some specific phobias include fear of:
- Animals, such as spiders, dogs or snakes.
- Injections (shots).
If you have agoraphobia, you may have an intense fear of being overwhelmed or unable to get help. Usually, you have a fear of two or more of these environments:
- Enclosed spaces.
- Lines or crowds.
- Open spaces.
- Places outside your house.
- Public transportation.
In severe situations, a person with agoraphobia may not leave the house at all. They’re so terrified of having a panic attack in public that they prefer to stay inside.
- SEPARATION ANXIETY
This condition mostly happens to children or teens, who may worry about being away from their parents. Children with separation anxiety disorder may fear that their parents will be hurt in some way or not come back as promised. It happens a lot in preschoolers. But older children and adults who experience a stressful event may have separation anxiety disorder as well.
Other mental health conditions share features with anxiety disorders. These include post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What causes anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are like other forms of mental illness. They don’t come from personal weakness, character flaws or problems with upbringing. But researchers don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. They suspect a combination of factors plays a role:
- Chemical imbalance: Severe or long-lasting stress can change the chemical balance that controls your mood. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period can lead to an anxiety disorder.
- Environmental factors: Experiencing a trauma might trigger an anxiety disorder, especially in someone who has inherited a higher risk to start.
- Heredity: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. You may inherit them from one or both parents, like eye color.
What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?
Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have. General symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Cold or sweaty hands.
- Dry mouth.
- Heart palpitations.
- Numbness or tingling in hands or feet.
- Muscle tension.
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling panic, fear and uneasiness.
- Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences.
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts.
- Inability to be still and calm.
- Ritualistic behaviors, such as washing hands repeatedly.
- Trouble sleeping.
WAYS TO MANAGE ANXIETY
Exercise is a great way to burn off anxious energy, and research tends to support this use. For example, a 2015 review of 12 randomized controlled trials found that exercise may be a treatment for anxiety. However, the review cautioned that only research of higher quality could determine how effective it is. Exercise may also help with anxiety caused by stressful circumstances. For example, suggest that exercise can benefit people with anxiety related to quitting smoking.
Meditation can help to slow racing thoughts, making it easier to manage stress and anxiety. A wide range of meditation styles, including mindfulness and meditation during yoga, may help. Mindfulness-based meditation is increasingly popular in therapy. A 2010 meta-analytic review suggests that it can be highly effective for people with disorders relating to mood and anxiety.
3. Relaxation exercises
Some people unconsciously tense the muscles and clench the jaw in response to anxiety. Progressive relaxation exercises can help. Try lying in a comfortable position and slowly constricting and relaxing each muscle group, beginning with the toes and working up to the shoulders and jaw.
Finding a way to express anxiety can make it feel more manageable. Some research suggests that journaling and other forms of writing can help people to cope better with anxiety. For example, found that creative writing may help children and teens to manage anxiety.
5. Time management strategies
Some people feel anxious if they have too many commitments at once. These may involve family, work, and health-related activities. Having a plan in place for the next necessary action can help to keep this anxiety at bay. Effective time management strategies can help people to focus on one task at a time. Book-based planners and online calendars can help, as can resisting the urge to multitask. Some people find that breaking major projects down into manageable steps can help them to accomplish those tasks with less stress.
Smelling soothing plant oils can help to ease stress and anxiety. Certain scents work better for some people than others, so consider experimenting with various options. Lavender may be especially helpful. A 2012 study tested the effects of aromatherapy with lavender on insomnia in 67 women aged 45–55. Results suggest that the aromatherapy may reduce the heart rate in the short term and help to ease sleep issues in the long term.
7. Cannabidiol oil
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a derivative of the cannabis, or marijuana, plant. Unlike other forms of marijuana, CBD oil does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the substance that creates a “high”. CBD oil is readily available without a prescription in many alternative healthcare shops. Preliminary research suggests that it has significant potential to reduce anxiety and panic. IN areas where medical marijuana is legal, doctors may also be able to prescribe the oil.
8. Herbal teas
Many herbal teas promise to help with anxiety and ease sleep. Some people find the process of making and drinking tea soothing, but some teas may have a more direct effect on the brain that results in reduced anxiety. Results of a small 2018 trial suggest that chamomile can alter levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
9. Herbal supplements
Like herbal teas, many herbal supplements claim to reduce anxiety. However, little scientific evidence supports these claims. It is vital to work with a doctor who is knowledgeable about herbal supplements and their potential interactions with other drugs.
10. Time with animals
Pets offer companionship, love, and support. Research published in 2018 confirmed that pets can be beneficial to people with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety. While many people prefer cats, dogs, and other small mammals, people with allergies will be pleased to learn that the pet does have to be furry to provide support. A 2015 study Trusted Source found that caring for crickets could improve psychological health in older people. Spending time with animals can also reduce anxiety and stress associated with trauma. Results of a 2015 systematic review Trusted Source suggest that grooming and spending time with horses can alleviate some of these effects.
How are anxiety disorders treated?
An anxiety disorder is like any other health problem that requires treatment. You can’t will it away. It’s not a matter of self-discipline or attitude. Researchers have made a lot of progress in the last few decades in treating mental health conditions. Your healthcare provider will tailor a treatment plan that works for you. Your plan may combine medication and psychotherapy.
How does medication treat anxiety disorders?
Medications can’t cure an anxiety disorder. But they can improve symptoms and help you function better. Medications for anxiety disorders often include:
- Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, may decrease your anxiety, panic and worry. They work quickly, but you can build up a tolerance to them. That makes them less effective over time. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for the short-term, then taper you off or the provider may add an antidepressant to the mix.
- Antidepressants can also help with anxiety disorders. They tweak how your brain uses certain chemicals to improve mood and reduce stress. Antidepressants may take some time to work, so be patient. If you feel like you’re ready to stop taking antidepressants, talk to your provider first.
- Beta-blockers, usually used for high blood pressure, can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders. They can relieve rapid heartbeat, shaking and trembling.
Your healthcare provider will work with you to find the right medication combination and dosage. Don’t change the dose without consulting your provider. They’ll monitor you to make sure the medicines are working without causing negative side effects.
How does psychotherapy treat anxiety disorders?
Psychotherapy, or counseling, helps you deal with your emotional response to the illness. A mental health provider talks through strategies to help you better understand and manage the disorder. Approaches include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used with anxiety disorders. CBT for anxiety teaches you to recognize thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings. You then work on changing them.
- Exposure therapy focuses on dealing with the fears behind the anxiety disorder. It helps you engage with activities or situations you may have been avoiding. Your provider may also use relaxation exercises and imagery with exposure therapy
An anxiety disorder can make it difficult to get through your day. Anxiety disorder symptoms include feelings of nervousness, panic and fear. You may also have physical symptoms such as sweating and a rapid heartbeat. But you don’t need to live like this. Several effective anxiety disorder treatments are available. Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out your diagnosis and the best treatment plan. Often, treatment combines medications and therapy. Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, together with CBT, can help you feel your best.