Anxiety is a feeling of dread, tension, or unease that can be common during moments of elevated stress or fear. While anxiety itself isn't necessarily cause for alarm, it can be unhealthy in high amounts. Learn more about anxiety, including the difference between natural anxious feelings and an anxiety disorder.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
Feeling anxious can be a natural part of life, particularly during moments of stress. However, there is a difference between occasional anxiety and living with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders cause problems with everyday functioning, making it challenging for individuals to perform at their highest potential at places like work, school, and even at home. People can get anxious for a wide variety of reasons, and everyone experiences different symptoms to varying degrees of severity. Here, we’ll take a closer look at anxiety and explore how the articles in this section might be useful if you or a loved one is coping with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Vs. Anxiety Disorders
How can you distinguish between natural anxiety and a full-blown anxiety disorder? While anxiety occurs every now and again during difficult times, anxiety disorders tend to be persistent, even when there may not be an immediate threat or concern. Further, everyday anxiety can often be brought under control once the stressor is removed, while the symptoms of an anxiety disorder may last even after the threat is gone.
There are times when you may experience the symptoms of anxiety, such as when you’re about to take a test or talk on stage in front of a crowd. It can be natural to feel anxious in these situations. However, if you’re regularly experiencing high levels of intense anxiety that are out of proportion to the actual events that are occurring in your daily life - you may have an anxiety disorder. Experiencing excessive anxiety with no apparent cause for extended periods of time could be cause for concern, and something you may want to visit a mental health professional about.
Symptoms Of Anxiety
The type of anxiety disorder that a person has can affect the specific symptoms they have. Further, some people may experience more severe symptoms than others. Some common symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Heart palpitations
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Unexplained weight gain/loss
- Irrational fear
- A sense of dread or doom
- Racing thoughts
- Dry mouth
Causes Of Anxiety
Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that there are a few easily identifiable risk factors for developing anxiety. One of these risk factors is experiencing excessive anxiety-inducing situations as a child. Children who have witnessed or experienced abuse are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Another risk factor is a predisposition to mental illness, as anxiety disorders can run in the family by being passed down through genes.
Lack of proper health care and not taking care of one’s physical health can be a component of developing an anxiety disorder. Lack of a healthy diet, exercise, and sleeping habits can make people more susceptible to mental and physical health issues.
Physicians must also rule out the possibility that another underlying medical condition (including other mental health disorders) is aggravating or causing an anxiety disorder as a component of seeking treatment.
Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders come in many forms and can impact people differently. Common types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. Anxiety disorder symptoms often impact both the body and mind and can vary in severity depending on the person experiencing them. Those with anxiety may have trouble explaining how they feel to others, but that doesn’t make their symptoms and experiences any less real. Let’s explore some of the different forms of anxiety disorders:
Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is marked by an intense, persistent fear of being observed or judged by other people. Some people with this condition may avoid people altogether, withdrawing from social events or neglecting responsibilities like school or work. Common symptoms include blushing, sweating, difficulty making eye contact, speaking softly, and experiencing gastrointestinal pain like stomachaches. Left unaddressed, social anxiety disorder can negatively impact a person’s life and mental well-being.
Generalized anxiety disorder: Worry is a common symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Those with this condition tend to have persistent and excessive worry about different situations including their relationships, careers, financial status, or health. They might fixate on something terrible happening even without evidence of danger. People with GAD may prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario and tend to believe that these adverse outcomes are probable. Because GAD can make it difficult to manage one’s worries, those with this disorder may spend a lot of time in their heads and feel unable to control their thoughts.
Panic disorder: Those living with panic disorder experience panic attacks on a consistent basis. Symptoms typically include difficulty breathing, shaking, sweating, and a sense of impending disaster or doom. Panic attacks come on without warning and can happen anywhere at anytime. Some people have unexpected panic attacks occasionally, while others experience frequent episodes of panic.
Phobias: Someone who has a phobia lives with an intense fear of a particular object, situation, or thing. They may go out of their way to avoid encountering what it is they’re afraid of. Typically, the fear that someone experiences when they have a phobia is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the object or situation. Common phobias include blood, spiders, heights, snakes, and needles.
Coping Techniques For Anxiety
There are many different coping strategies and treatment methods that can successfully reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Treatment typically includes therapy, medication, self-care, mindfulness, and lifestyle changes. Medical professionals may utilize one or more strategies to get a person’s anxiety under control.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common therapy approaches used to manage and treat anxiety disorders. CBT works by teaching people how to balance the logical side of their brain with the emotional side. By understanding which thoughts and feelings are productive, and which are harmful, individuals can learn how to shift how they think and feel. This can allow them to adopt new behaviors that support more positive well-being.
Exposure therapy is another popular intervention that works by gradually exposing an individual to the object or situation they fear until their brain no longer associates the stimulus with fear and anxiety. The purpose of exposure therapy is to mitigate the anxiety symptoms that often keep people from living productive lives.
Therapy can be conducted individually or in a group, depending on an individual’s needs. Further, services may be accessed online or in person, which might make it easier to get support.
People who have a history of anxiety may have trouble staying in the present moment even when they aren’t in actual danger. Difficulty concentrating on the here and now can aggravate underlying medical issues related to anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, feelings of anxiety can impact mental and physical health.
Mindfulness meditation is about staying aware of the present moment rather than focusing on the past or the future. A person who practices mindfulness turns inward and focuses on how their body feels.
Mindfulness derives from Eastern medicine, but it’s been adopted by Western culture, and become quite popular in treating anxiety disorders. It was first introduced to The United States by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., who works at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn founded a stress reduction clinic, and because of his efforts, mindfulness is recognized as an effective treatment for anxiety today.
Self-care can be crucial regardless of the presence of an anxiety disorder. Common forms of self-care include journaling, spending time with loved ones, exercising, reading, or listening to music. Different people may enjoy different activities depending on their unique interests and hobbies. Everyday habits like getting enough rest and eating healthy meals can also be an important aspect of self-care.
Sometimes certain aspects of an individual’s life may be causing their anxiety, whether they’re aware of it or not. For example, someone might be in a toxic relationship, consuming too much caffeine, not getting enough sleep, or working a job with an overbearing boss. Addressing these concerns can alleviate a person’s anxiety at times without other interventions. However, when lifestyle changes are combined with other treatment methods, the outcome may be even more positive.
Some people are prescribed anti-anxiety medication to get their symptoms under control. Along with therapy, this can be a highly effective treatment plan for anxiety disorders. It can be crucial to always consult with a doctor or other medical professional before starting or stopping a new medication.
Navigating Anxiety With Online Therapy
While experiencing anxious feelings from time to time is common, having excessive anxiety that interferes with your daily functioning could indicate a more serious problem. If you’re struggling with symptoms of anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, connecting with a professional could be beneficial. Because anxiety can make it challenging to live life as usual, the idea of attending a therapy appointment in person may sound intimidating. One alternative option is using an online therapy platform like BetterHelp.
With online therapy, you can speak with a provider through video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging, according to your preferences and comfort. Feeling more at ease during sessions may allow you to be more forthcoming about how you’re feeling, promoting success and positive outcomes in therapy.
The Efficacy Of Online Therapy For Anxiety
Research has shown that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy in managing and treating various mental health conditions, such as anxiety. One recent, systematic review examined the efficacy of CBT delivered online versus in person and concluded that "both internet-based and face-to-face CBT are equally effective in treating five different anxiety disorders.” Dropout rates among participants did not differ from one treatment to the next, and researchers postulated that online CBT may be more successful because it allows participants to concentrate more fully on sessions.
CBT is a framework that recognizes the connection between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therapists who use CBT teach their clients how to adopt newer, more constructive ways of thinking and feeling, which allows them to choose healthier, more productive behaviors.
Anxiety is a common feeling that most people experience occasionally when under significant amounts of stress. While anxious feelings now and again may not be concerning, having frequent bouts of anxiety that interrupt daily life could indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. Individuals living with an anxiety disorder often benefit from receiving intervention and treatment from a qualified professional, such as a therapist. While the setting of in-person therapy may not be ideal for someone with anxiety, online platforms such as BetterHelp can provide an alternate way to receive support. Combining the advice contained in these articles with professional guidance may forge a path to healing and recovery