Do you frequently feel on edge and unable to relax, worried about some unnamable threat lurking out of sight? If so, you may have an anxiety disorder. Nervousness can be a typical human emotion, 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 these can be standard human feelings that everyone might experience, they 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 an anxiety disorder—and you might benefit from connecting with a licensed therapist.
How Anxiety 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 anxiety. 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 anxiety disorders can create in many is often the first step toward empathetic understanding and correct 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:
Possible Anxiety Disorder-Related Symptoms
Physical—Your anxiety disorder may cause symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, gastrointestinal upset, hyperventilation or shortness of breath. You might also experience a racing pulse, muscle tension, neck pain and fatigue.
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 behavior (such as avoiding people or places that may be likely to cause stress or changing your sleep habits).
Exploring The Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety 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 symptoms and reach a higher quality of life.
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—and 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 it can be normal to worry about your loved ones when you’re not together, some people living with separation anxiety might demonstrate intense worry and distress when separated from their emotional attachment figures. As a result, one 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 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.
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.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?
According to a recent study, people with anxiety disorders generally respond best to a treatment plan involving medication, psychotherapy, or both.
Anxiety disorders are typically treated with three categories of pharmaceuticals: antidepressants, beta-blockers and anti-anxiety medications.
We do want to note: While medicine might not cure an anxiety disorder, it can help reduce the comfort that can be caused by 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 anxiety disorders. It is generally thought to focus on identifying negative or maladaptive behaviors and thought 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 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 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: A Guide
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.
Evaluate whether you are facing a legitimate threat. Internal self-dialog can be a powerful tool in reducing nervous feelings.
Challenge your nervous 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.
When To Reach Out For Help
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.
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.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
According to a recent meta-analysis and review 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.
How do I stop endless anxiety?
The thought of living with never-ending anxiety symptoms can be enough for many to feel anxious However, understanding how to stop the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety can feel empowering; helping many to break the loop.
One of the main ways that many stop endless anxiety is to allow the anxious thoughts to wash over them. This can help to stop the cycle of stress hormones fueling the outburst, directly opposing stress that can come from fighting the feeling itself. Others may also practice deep breathing, meditation, and other supportive strategies to help them to “beat” anxiety symptoms.
Why do I have permanent anxiety?
There generally isn’t such a thing as “permanent” anxiety. Human beings are generally able to return to a state of control with supportive care, it just may take some more time than others to do so. If you believe that you have chronic anxiety or recurring anxiety and depression, you may consider speaking with your medical practitioner. They can help you to get to the root of your severe anxiety symptoms and help to formally diagnose you in alignment with the recent standards in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V).
Will anxiety go away if you ignore it?
Many people who experience emotional and physical symptoms of severe anxiety may wonder if it ever truly goes away. This question can be fairly common who experience mood disorders; or have some sort of depression association with the condition they are facing.
The effects of chronic anxiety do not generally leave when you ignore them. Instead, they may escalate, manifesting into new sets of symptoms. Some of these can include panic attacks, dysregulation of the nervous system and many of the same symptoms you’d expect to see with panic disorder.
Can constant anxiety be cured?
Symptoms of constant or chronic anxiety can often be addressed with supportive strategies and ongoing therapy for mood disorders and mental disorders. Support may look different as care continues, moving from treatment of acute symptoms to resolution of other, more peripheral symptoms (such as difficulty concentrating).
This course of treatment can be effective regardless if the person in question has other underlying mood disorders or mental disorders; or any of the risk factors for other common anxiety disorders.
Can anxiety last a lifetime?
Chronic anxiety, like many other mood disorders, can last a lifetime if it is not properly addressed. Healthcare practitioners can help many to assess their risk factors for other co-occurring mood disorders and mental health conditions (such as other forms of anxiety and depression), creating a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses as many symptoms as possible.
How do I train my brain to stop worrying?
If you experience anxiety and depression, you may find it difficult to stop worrying at any given time. However, this type of cyclic thinking can be successfully resolved with strategic support and ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy can help you to “rewire” your thoughts; helping your brain to choose more productive and healthy alternatives that support your mental health overall.
Why can't I relax and enjoy life?
If you feel like you can’t relax and enjoy life, you may be experiencing excessive stress that’s inhibiting your ability to rest in a restorative way. Speaking with a therapist can be a helpful first step to reducing these feelings; connecting you with care that can enhance your quality of life.
What foods get rid of anxiety?
Many foods can contribute to a reduction in nervous thinking via naturally occurring bioactive compounds.
Some of these foods include:
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate
- Fermented foods (i.e. pickles)
Can anxiety cause your brain to shut down?
Anxiety cannot cause your brain to physically stop working. However, it can cause a loss of concentration, which can be disorienting and frustrating to many.
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