If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you know how overwhelming it can be.
Anxiety is the body’s response to stress, threats, and fear. Fortunately, anxiety usually goes away once the threat passes — though it probably won’t be the last time you experience it.
If you have an anxiety disorder, however, anxiety can linger well beyond the triggering event and become chronic or severe enough to impair daily functioning.
While you probably can’t banish anxiety altogether, anxiety and anxiety disorders can be treated and managed.
Anxiety does go away — it’s not necessarily permanent.
It’s bound to make a reappearance, though, when you need to make an important decision, have a health scare, or when someone you love is in jeopardy, for example. In fact, there are situations where a bout of anxiety is crucial to survival.
Occasional anxiety is a perfectly natural part of the human experience.
Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are different from a typical run-in with anxiety because they’re about more than passing worry or fear.
With anxiety disorders, anxiety can occur frequently and seemingly out of the blue, and last longer than needed for the situation. Untreated anxiety disorders can worsen over time.
Anxiety is an emotion that involves worry, apprehension, and stress.
You can also have temporary physical symptoms, such as increased adrenaline and heart rate. These can be helpful in focusing your attention on perceived dangers so you can respond appropriately.
Anxiety is that state of high alert when there’s a threat or possibility of a threat. It serves a purpose.
Something big may be about to happen and you need to be ready.
Sometimes, anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to function. This may present as an overly intense response to a potential threat, or in the absence of an actual threat.
Frequent or persistent intrusive symptoms of anxiety may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Common types of anxiety disorders include:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- separation anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorders may also experience anxiety symptoms. These used to be classified as anxiety disorders, but are now separate in the DSM-5.
Any of these conditions can cause significant problems with relationships and performance at work or school.
Some risk factors for developing an anxiety or related disorder include:
- exposure to significant stressful and negative events
- family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions
- health conditions such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmia
It’s estimated that 31.1 percent of adults in the United States experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetimes.
Most of the time, once the event that causes anxiety is resolved, the anxiety goes away and you may be able to manage it on your own.
That may not be the case, however, if you have an anxiety disorder.
Your symptoms may continue or get worse. Severe or chronic anxiety can make it difficult to function.
But there are effective treatment options for anxiety disorders, and individuals can learn to manage their symptoms.
Anxiety is treated by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals.
Treatment options for anxiety include:
CBT is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related. Changing the way you think changes the way you feel and, in turn, changes your behavior.
Similarly, changing your behavior can also change the way you think and feel.
In CBT, you start out with a set number of sessions, typically 20 or fewer. Sessions focus on specific problems and changing the way you deal with them. You practice with your therapist and on your own in between sessions.
One common method of treating anxiety disorders is a type of CBT called exposure therapy. This involves identifying the things that cause anxiety and then, in a safe setting, systematically exposing yourself to them, virtually or in real life.
As you’re exposed to a stressful or feared situation or thing in a safe setting, you begin to feel less anxious about it.
Exposure therapy is a short-term treatment, usually 10 sessions or fewer.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves one-on-one sessions with a therapist.
During therapy, you can speak openly about your anxieties and other concerns. Your therapist can help you identify problems and work on strategies to overcome them.
When anxiety is unmanageable with therapy alone, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications such as:
- serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- tricyclic antidepressants
When prescribed for anxiety, these medications are typically combined with therapy.
Even if you’ve learned how to manage anxiety, it’s a safe bet that you’ll experience some level of anxiety again in your lifetime.
It may crop up in response to events such as:
- financial issues
- problems at work
- worry over personal safety or that of a loved one
- troubled personal relationships
- fear of being alone
- serious health issues
- worry about the return of anxiety
Your anxiety level is likely to fluctuate throughout your life, depending on what’s happening or what’s on your mind.
When you feel anxious, it may help to acknowledge the fact that you’re anxious and consider the situation.
During times of stress and alarm, it can help to know your feelings of anxiety may pass once the stressful event is over.
Here are a few things you can do to help lower your anxiety in the moment:
- Reach out to someone you trust. Sometimes, talking things through can help you gain calm and relieve anxious thoughts.
- Say no if you’ve got too much on your plate and more is expected.
- Go for a walk. Try to be mindful of your surroundings and take long, deep breaths.
- Meditate, do some yoga exercises, practice deep breathing, or do other activities that have helped you to feel calm or centered before.
- Do something that helps you relax physically, such as soaking in a warm bath, playing soothing music, or enjoying aromatherapy.
There are also some things you can do to help reduce anxiety in the long term.
Get regular exercise
The World Health Organization (WHO)
Research shows that this amount of exercise can help ease mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Learn mindfulness and meditation
Being mindful means stepping back, tuning out the inconsequential, and paying attention to what’s happening in the moment.
Meditation can take some practice. Try downloading a meditation app or taking a meditation class to help you learn. It’ll also come in handy when you need help in moments of stress.
Get plenty of sleep
Maintain a healthy diet. If you need help, reach out to a dietitian or nutritionist.
A balanced diet is good for your overall physical and mental health.
Stay socially engaged and get support
Maintain a strong social network. Social interactions can distract you from your own stressors and give you someone to turn to when you need to talk.
You might also find it helpful to connect with others who are dealing with anxiety. You’re not limited to in-person connection, either. You can reach out online, on the phone, or through video chat.
Finding help for anxiety
If you’re struggling with anxiety, these organizations can help:
Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. It usually eases once the triggering event is over.
You may go through a period of intense anxiety that lasts weeks or months depending on your circumstances.
If you have an anxiety disorder, anxiety can become a long-term condition. Untreated, anxiety disorders can worsen and substantially disrupt your life. Sometimes, this can lead to other disorders such as depression or substance use disorder.
Anxiety disorders can be treated and effectively managed. There are also things you can do on your own to help relieve stress and anxiety.
Behavioral therapy is a safe, effective treatment for anxiety. In some cases, especially when there are coexisting conditions, therapy plus medication can be beneficial.
You don’t have to deal with anxiety alone. If your anxiety feels overwhelming or unmanageable, discuss it with a healthcare provider or mental health professional.