Anxiety affects everyone in different ways. Sometimes, the feelings of fear and dread don’t go away or get worse over time. Here, you can learn about anxiety, who it affects, and how to manage it.
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. For example, going to a job interview or giving a speech on the first day of school may cause some people to feel fearful and nervous.
But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for at least 6 months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and do a better job. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes but doesn’t interfere with your everyday life.
In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It’s intense and sometimes debilitating.
This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. For example, it may prevent you from entering an elevator, crossing the street, or even leaving your home in extreme cases. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone. But, according to the American Psychiatric Association, women are more likely than men to receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a vital part of several different disorders. These include:
- Panic disorder. This means you experience recurring panic attacks at unexpected times.
- Phobia. This is an excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity.
- Social anxiety disorder. This is an extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. This means you have recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviors.
- Separation anxiety disorder. This means you have a fear of being away from home or your loved ones.
- Illness anxiety disorder. This is anxiety about your health (formerly called hypochondria).
In addition, a number of mental health and medical conditions may feature anxiety as a symptom. These include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is anxiety following a traumatic event.
- Major depressive disorders. A strong relationship exists between depression and anxiety.
- Chronic disease. Managing conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes may result in anxiety symptoms.
- Inflammatory conditions. Anxiety can lead to chronic inflammation and diseases such as arthritis
- Substance use disorders: many people with anxiety may try to self-medicate to help manage their symptoms.
- Chronic pain. Anxiety is often
foundin those with chronic pain disorders.
Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control like there’s a disconnect between your mind and body.
You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event. In some cases, you may experience a panic attack.
- anxious thoughts or beliefs that are difficult to control
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
- unexplained aches and pains
Your anxiety symptoms might be different from someone else’s. That’s why it’s essential to know how anxiety can present itself. Read about the many types of anxiety symptoms you might experience.
A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear that comes on suddenly and peaks within 10 to 20 minutes. The initial trigger of the fear can be known or unknown.
The physical symptoms can mimic a heart attack. Once you’re experiencing a panic attack, the symptoms may get worse if you believe you may be having a heart attack or having a mental health emergency. Another common fear that may exacerbate a panic attack is the fear that you might be judged negatively if you’re having an attack in public.
Panic attacks can vary greatly, and symptoms may differ among individuals. In addition, the many symptoms of anxiety don’t happen to everyone, and they can change over time.
- chest pain
- feeling of choking
- fear of losing control
- feeling of impending doom
- sweating, chills, and hot flashes
- numbness and tingling of hands, feet, or face
- nausea or upset stomach
- shortness of breath
- fear of dying
When you experience repeated panic or anxiety attacks, you may have a panic disorder.
Experts aren’t sure of the exact cause of anxiety. But it’s likely that a combination of factors play a role.
The causes of anxiety may include:
- other medical issues such as depression or diabetes
- first degree relatives with generalized anxiety disorder
- environmental concerns, such as child abuse
- substance use
- situations such as surgery or occupational hazard
In addition, researchers believe that it stems from the areas of the brain responsible for controlling fear and the storing and retrieval of emotional and fear-related memories.
With each type of anxiety, there are different risk factors. But there are some
- Personality traits. This includes shyness and nervousness in childhood.
- Life history. This includes being exposed to negative or stressful live events.
- Genetics. Of those who have a diagnosis of anxiety,
25 percenthave a first degree relative who also has a diagnosis of anxiety.
- Other health conditions. Thyroid problems and other health conditions can make you prone to anxiety.
- Stimulants. Consuming
caffeine, specific substances, and medications can worsen your symptoms.
A single test can’t diagnose anxiety. Instead, an anxiety diagnosis requires a lengthy process of physical examinations, mental health tests, and psychological questionnaires.
Some doctors or healthcare professionals may conduct a physical exam, including blood or urine tests to rule out underlying medical conditions that could contribute to the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Several anxiety tests and scales are also used to help a doctor assess the level of anxiety you’re experiencing.
Once you’ve received a diagnosis of anxiety, you can explore treatment options with a doctor.
But treatment can help you overcome the symptoms and lead a more manageable day-to-day life.
Treatment for anxiety falls into three categories:
- Psychotherapy. Therapy can include cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure response prevention.
- Complemental health techniques. Mindfulness, yoga, and self-management strategies such as stress management are ways to treat your anxiety using alternative methods.
- Medication. Doctors prescribe antianxiety and antidepressant drugs.
Meeting with a therapist or psychologist can help you learn tools to use and strategies to cope with stress when it occurs.
The Mental Health Resources page can provide tips on finding a psychiatrist, or a doctor who specializes in mental health, to fit your needs.
Medications typically used to treat anxiety include benzodiazepines for short-term symptom relief, but they’re avoided if possible due to the high risk of dependence. Other antianxiety or antidepressant medications such as escitalopram effectively alter your brain chemistry to improve mood and reduce stress.
Some other commonly used medications include:
- Selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Escitalopram, fluoxetine, and paroxetine are common SSRIs.
- Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Duloxetine and venlafaxine are common SNRIs.
- Antipsychotics. Quetiapine and aripiprazole are common antipsychotics.
- Benzodiazepines. Diazepam and clonazepam are common benzodiazepines.
- Anxiolytics. Buspirone is a common anxiolytic.
Online therapy options
Please read our resource on finding online therapy that takes your insurance to find the right therapist for you.
Lifestyle changes can effectively relieve some of the stress and anxiety you may cope with every day. Most natural “remedies” consist of caring for your body and participating in healthy activities while eliminating unhealthy ones.
- getting enough sleep
- staying active and exercising
- eating a healthy diet
- avoiding alcohol
- avoiding caffeine
- quitting smoking cigarettes if you smoke
If these lifestyle changes seem like a positive way to help you eliminate some anxiety, read about how each one works—plus, get more great ideas for treating anxiety.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also be experiencing depression. While anxiety and depression can occur separately, it’s not unusual for mental health disorders to happen together.
Anxiety can be a symptom of clinical or major depression. Likewise, worsening symptoms of depression can become triggered by an anxiety disorder.
You can manage symptoms of both conditions with many of the same treatments: psychotherapy (counseling), medications, and lifestyle changes.
Anxiety in children is natural and expected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
As children grow up, they should outgrow the worries and fears they felt when they were younger. It may be considered an anxiety disorder if they’re afraid to be away from their parents, exhibit extreme fear, and other anxiety symptoms that interfere with their day-to-day lives.
Anxiety in children can also become chronic and persistent, with uncontrolled anxiety leading them to avoid interacting with their peers or family members.
Symptoms of an
- trouble sleeping
- feelings of fear
Anxiety treatment for children includes cognitive behavioral therapy (talk therapy) and medications. Learn more about the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and techniques to help calm your child’s anxiety.
Teenagers may have many reasons to be anxious. Tests, college visits, and first dates all pop up in these important years. But teenagers who feel anxious or experience anxiety symptoms frequently may have an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of anxiety in teenagers may include nervousness, shyness, isolationist behaviors, and avoidance. Likewise, anxiety in teens may lead to unusual behaviors.
For example, they may act out, perform poorly in school, skip social events, and even engage in substance or alcohol use.
In some teens, depression may accompany anxiety. Diagnosing both conditions is essential so that their treatment can address the underlying issues and help relieve symptoms.
The most common treatments for anxiety in teenagers are talk therapy and medication. These treatments also help address depression symptoms.
Stress and anxiety are related but different. Stress is a typical and healthy reaction to an identifiable event that’s making you nervous, such as an upcoming test, presentation, wedding, or other major change in your life.
Stress will go away once the trigger goes away. Anxiety, on the other hand, persists beyond any trigger and may exist without a known trigger. A person may need treatment for anxiety to go away.
Both anxiety and stress respond well to physical activity, good sleep hygiene, and a well-balanced diet. But if your anxiety and stress don’t respond well and you feel your day-to-day functioning is impaired, a mental health professional can help you determine a treatment plan.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
When you experience symptoms of anxiety, they can manifest as physical symptoms such as:
- heart palpitations
- muscle aches and tensions
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
Neither stress nor anxiety is always bad. Both can provide you with a boost or incentive to accomplish the task or challenge before you. But if these feelings become persistent, they can begin to interfere with your daily life. In that case, it’s important to get treatment.
The long-term outlook for people with untreated depression and anxiety includes chronic health issues, such as heart disease. Learn why anxiety and stress occur and how you can manage the conditions.
If you’re anxious frequently, you may decide you’d like a drink to calm your nerves. After all, alcohol is a sedative. In addition, it can depress the activity of your central nervous system, which may help you feel more relaxed.
Some people with anxiety disorders abuse alcohol or other drugs regularly to feel better, creating dependency and addiction.
It may be necessary to treat an alcohol or drug problem before doctors can address the anxiety. But chronic or long-term use can ultimately worsen the condition. Read more to understand how alcohol can worsen anxiety symptoms.
Doctors commonly use medication and talk therapy to treat anxiety. But lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep and regular exercise, can also help. In addition, some research suggests the foods you eat may have a beneficial impact on your brain if you frequently experience anxiety.
These foods include:
- flax and chia seeds
- fatty fish such as mackerel and salmon
- vitamin D
Read more about how these foods can boost your brain health and lower your anxiety.
Children and teens
It’s not known why anxiety develops in children and teenagers. But there are excellent public health approaches that work to prevent the disorder, and they include:
- suicide prevention
- bullying prevention
- youth violence prevention
- child maltreatment prevention
- mental health programs
As parents, you can communicate openly and honestly with your child while ensuring they’re making healthy decisions.
To learn more about how to support your child’s mental health,
In addition, in cases of children and teens experiencing anxiety in response to something happening within their family or in their home, it’s a good idea to get family therapy. This is important especially because children and teens may not find it so easy to talk about their feelings or be aware of their anxiety.
There are many ways to prevent anxiety and its symptoms. Please see the below options:
- Avoidance. Avoiding people, places, and situations can lessen your stress and anxiety. But this would be a short-term strategy. In the long term, it’s better if you get treatment so you no longer need to avoid a trigger.
- Stress management and mindfulness. Practicing stress management and mindfulness prevents strain.
- Restrict caffeine. Caffeine can worsen anxiety symptoms.
- Support groups. Speaking with others is an opportunity to share coping strategies and experiences.
- Therapy. Speaking with a therapist can help you develop more effective ways to cope with fears and stress that lead to anxiety.
- Speak with a doctor about your medications. Regularly speaking with a doctor about your medications’ dosing, effectiveness, and side effects ensures any health condition is treated adequately and monitored for any possible anxiety-related side effects.
You can treat your anxiety with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.
But some people who have a mild anxiety disorder, or a fear of something they can easily avoid, decide to live with the condition and don’t get treatment.
Avoiding the trigger, however, can actually make anxiety worse in the long term. Treatment can help you overcome the need to avoid a trigger.
It’s important to understand that anxiety disorders can be treated, even in severe cases. Although anxiety usually doesn’t go away, you can learn to manage it and live a happy, healthy life.