Anxiety: The Stress That Doesn't Stop

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety can be a typical human emotion that arises during stressful life events, but for approximately 40 million Americans, it lingers longer than it should and can negatively influence thoughts and behaviors. 

Read on to learn about anxiety disorders and how therapy can help you live well with persistent feelings of nervousness. 

What is anxiety and when is it considered a disorder?

Anxiety is a term that commonly defines feelings of worry, fear, and dread. While occasional anxiety tends to be common, it should generally be temporary to warn you of potential danger—not occurring persistently after the danger has passed. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), when your feelings of excessive nervousness persist to the point that they interfere with your daily life and cause functional impairment, you may have a disorder—and you might benefit from connecting with a licensed therapist. 

“Many people worry about things such as health, money or family problems. But anxiety disorders (can) involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety (might) not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork and relationships.” — NIMH Overview of Anxiety Disorders

Does it feel like your anxiety never goes away?

How these disorders can affect your life

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that anxiety disorders are generally regarded as the most common mental health condition among adults in the US, estimating that roughly 40 million people are living with one. Though the organization called the disorders “highly treatable,” clinical sources note that only 36.9% of those with an anxiety disorder receive treatment. 

Anxiety disorders can affect your emotional, cognitive and physical health, with effects often worsening as the condition persists. Understanding the range of symptoms that these disorders can create in many is often the first step toward empathetic understanding and effective treatment. 

What does an anxiety disorder look like?

Like many mental health conditions, how anxiety disorders present can be as unique as the individual experiencing it. While symptoms can vary significantly from one person to another, mental health professionals can use some common signs to help diagnose anxiety disorders. We’ve included a summary of possible manifestations below: 

  • Physical—Your disorder may cause symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, hyperventilation, or shortness of breath. With an anxious mind, you might also experience a racing pulse, muscle tension, neck pain, fatigue, and trouble falling asleep. 
  • Psychological—Within this symptomatic range, you may feel a powerful sense of impending doom, be unusually irritable, or experience disorientation or extreme nervousness. You might also have trouble concentrating or controlling your feelings of worry and fear.
  • Behavioral—You might find yourself wishing to change your behavioral patterns due to symptoms of anxiety disorders, possibly resulting in changed behavioral strategies (such as avoiding people or places that may be likely to cause stress or changing your sleep habits). 

Exploring the different types of disorders

These disorders can present in multiple ways under a range of different diagnostic titles, possibly influencing your life in ways you may never have imagined. According to NIMH researchers, approximately 30% of American adults will experience a type of anxiety disorder during their lives. 

Below, we’ve summarized a few possible types of anxiety disorders to consider as you undergo your journey of self-discovery and healing. 

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

This disorder can be characterized as persistent worry, fear, or dread that can be related to multiple subjects or areas of your life. You may find yourself overthinking situations, fixating on the worst-case scenario, constantly perceiving threats when you are safe, having trouble handling uncertainty, and showing worry that might not be proportionate to the circumstances you’re in. Online therapy can be an effective way to mitigate GAD symptoms and enjoy a higher quality of life. 

Panic disorder

Sudden onset of extreme, debilitating physical and mental symptoms that can last for several minutes may indicate the presence of panic disorder in some. These sudden symptoms, known as panic attacks in many, can occur without warning—with or without an apparent cause. A panic attack can often trigger increased nervousness about future episodes. Working with a psychiatrist to find accurate diagnosis and possible pharmaceutical support can be a helpful complement to online or in-person therapeutic intervention.

Separation anxiety disorder

While worrying about your loved ones when you’re not together can be a normal part of life, some people living with separation disorder might demonstrate intense worry and distress when separated from their emotional attachment figures. As a result, they might experience separation-themed nightmares and feelings of intense dislike at the thought of being alone for any period of time. An online therapist can help many to navigate this transition or experience in confidence.

Social anxiety disorder

Many people might feel nervous in unfamiliar social situations. However, someone living with social anxiety disorder can experience worry that is so severe that they may feel “frozen” when out in public—possibly inhibiting their ability to carry on conversation or feel calm when socializing. Fears that can be associated with this disorder generally focus on worst-case scenarios in social situations, such as one’s fear of embarrassment, judgment, rejection, and ridicule in social situations. An online therapist can help many to work through these fears and the subsequent discomfort.

Phobia-related disorders

The intense fear of a specific object or situation is generally called a phobia, which many people might experience. For example: Phobias of heights, spiders or public speaking are common for many. Someone who lives with a phobia-related disorder might exhibit extreme reactions when encountering the subject of one’s fears—which can be disproportionate to the actual danger that one might be facing. Online therapy can be a helpful tool for people living with these specific fears. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

How are anxiety disorders treated?

According to a recent study, people with these disorders generally respond best to a treatment plan involving medication, talk therapy, or both.


Anxiety disorders are typically treated with three categories of pharmaceuticals: antidepressants, beta-blockers and anti-anxiety medications. 

While medicine might not cure a disorder, it can help reduce symptoms, and it can also help to reduce possible effects on one’s functional ability. It is generally best to work closely with your practitioner if you are considering using medication for anxiety disorder management, possibly lowering your risk for misuse or adverse effects. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is regarded by many as the most common treatment for these disorders. It is generally thought to focus on identifying negative or maladaptive behaviors and thinking patterns, working to shift them toward more positive, productive habits. This process can help one to be better prepared to cope with stressors or other triggers in day-to-day life. When working with the support and guidance of a mental healthcare provider, it can be possible to learn practical coping strategies to help you manage your symptoms and stress reactions. 

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is generally designed to offer many a new way to confront one’s fears through systematic exposure to the subject of a phobia. Repeated controlled exposures can help you build an emotional tolerance, possibly empowering you to better direct your reactions. 

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Mindfulness and goal-setting exercises that are generally associated with ACT can help to reduce the discomfort commonly associated with one’s anxiety disorder-related symptoms. 

Group therapy

Group therapy empowers many to avail to a community of others who might experience similar anxiety disorder-related symptoms while benefiting from the knowledge and expertise of a mental health professional. You may find comfort in the experiences of others with the same disorder and could potentially learn new coping skills that are effective for others. 

Recognizing anxiety disorders in children

While children and adolescents can experience anxiety disorders, they may not always present the same way they do in adults. Young children may not be able to understand or express their emotions and anxiety symptoms adequately. Additionally, teenagers experiencing anxiety disorders may display other less common symptoms that can be associated with behavior—such as moodiness, social isolation, or poor school performance. Specialized youth-oriented therapeutic intervention can be helpful in elevating the quality of life for many. 

Helpful tips to live well with anxiety disorders

  • Identify possible nervous triggers. This can help you to create more healthy and calm rhythms in your daily life. 
  • Establish a healthy, regular sleep hygiene routine. Sleep can be helpful in limiting anxiety disorder-related symptoms. If sleep problems persist, you might start to feel sleep-deprived. It may be helpful to speak with a health care provider about ways to get better sleep.
  • Evaluate whether you are facing a legitimate threat. Internal self-dialog can be a powerful tool in reducing nervous feelings. 
  • Challenge your negative thoughts. Challenging what you feel reluctant to do because of anxiety disorder-related thoughts can be incredibly empowering for some. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Consciously relaxing can support better overall management of anxiety disorder-related symptoms. 
  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise habits. One’s diet can be incredibly impactful for anxiety disorder management, promoting feelings of general well-being and calmness in many. Also, regular physical activity may lead your body to release endorphins, which may improve your mood.
  • Connect with support groups. There are support groups both in person and online that can help you connect with others experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

When to reach out for help from a mental health professional

While feelings of nervousness can be a standard part of life for many in certain seasons, it can become problematic when it interferes with your life and causes functional impairment. If your nervousness feels like it never goes away, consider speaking to your physician or mental healthcare provider to ask about a formal assessment for an anxiety disorder. If you’re feeling anxious about talking to a professional, you might consider talking to a friend of family member about what you’re experiencing. They may know a provider who has helped them with their own anxiety. 

How therapy can help you cope with anxiety

Some might find support for diagnosed anxiety disorder or persistent nervousness through a virtual therapy platform such as BetterHelp (or for children from 12 to 19, TeenCounseling). A qualified therapist can help you identify and replace harmful behaviors and thought patterns, possibly helping one to shift toward adaptive, positive habits. Flexible appointment formats through phone, video calls, or asynchronous online chat make it simple for many to fit therapy into their busy schedule. Therapy in this format may provide more options to those who feel as if their experiences with anxiety disorder make it difficult for them to leave the home. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Does it feel like your anxiety never goes away?

Is online therapy effective for anxiety symptoms? 

According to a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in Depression and Anxiety, patients who live with anxiety disorders generally received the same positive results with online CBT as they did or would with in-person treatments. We do want to note that online therapy is often much less expensive for many, and generally involves shorter wait times that could remove barriers to treatment for some. 


Anxiety disorders can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. However, there are treatments available that may help you manage symptoms more effectively. If you feel hesitant to try in-person therapy, you might consider online therapy with BetterHelp, which can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need. Take the first step toward relief from anxiety and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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