Anxiety: The Stress That Never Stops
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. Anxiety is a typical human emotion, but for approximately a third of Americans, it lingers longer than it should and negatively influences thoughts and behaviors. Read on to learn about anxiety disorders and how therapy can help you cope with never-ending anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion that encompasses feelings of worry, fear, and dread. While these are standard human feelings that everyone experiences, they should be temporary to warn you of potential danger. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), when your feelings of anxiety persist to the point that they interfere with your daily life and cause functional impairment, you may have an anxiety disorder.
“Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does 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
How Anxiety Disorders Can Affect Your Life
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America said anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition among adults in the US, with roughly 40 million people living with anxiety. Though the organization called the disorders “highly treatable,” only 36.9% of those with an anxiety disorder receive treatment.
Anxiety disorders can affect your emotional, cognitive, and even physical health, with effects often worsening as the condition persists. Anxiety is meant to serve as your body’s early warning system, helping you evaluate immediate threats. However, for people with anxiety disorders, the brain doesn’t process the signals as it should, and their bodies can get stuck in fight or flight mode, convinced there is an imminent threat even when they’re perfectly safe.
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Like many mental health conditions, how anxiety presents can be as unique as the individual experiencing it. While symptoms can vary significantly from one person to another, mental health professionals use some common signs to help diagnose anxiety disorders.
Physical—Your anxiety may cause symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, gastrointestinal issues, hyperventilation or shortness of breath, racing pulse, muscle tension, neck pain, and fatigue.
Psychological— You may feel a powerful sense of impending doom, be unusually irritable, experience disorientation or extreme nervousness, have trouble concentrating or your mind goes blank, and may have difficulty controlling your feelings of worry and fear.
Behavioral—You might change your behavioral patterns due to anxiety, like avoiding people or places likely to cause stress or changing your sleep habits.
Exploring The Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety can present in multiple ways, often 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.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Persistent worry, fear, or dread related to multiple subjects or areas of your life rather than anxiety focused on a single topic. You may overthink situations, fixate on the worst-case scenario, constantly perceive threats when you are safe, have trouble handling uncertainty, and show worry that’s not proportionate to the circumstances.
Sudden onset of extreme, debilitating anxiety symptoms lasting several minutes and causing severe interference with your functional capability. Panic attacks can occur without warning—with or without an apparent cause—and often trigger increased anxiety about future episodes.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
While it is customary to worry about your loved ones when you’re not together, some people with anxiety demonstrate intense worry and distress when separated from their emotional attachment figures. You may have separation-themed nightmares and intensely dislike being alone.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Many people feel anxious in unfamiliar social situations, but you may have a social anxiety disorder if your worries are so severe that you can’t speak or perform at all. Fears generally center on embarrassment, judgment, rejection, and ridicule in social situations.
The intense fear of a specific object or situation is called a phobia, which many people experience. For example, phobias of heights, spiders, or public speaking are common. However, with a phobia-related disorder, you may exhibit extreme reactions when encountering the subject of your fears, often disproportionate to the actual danger you face.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?
According to a recent study, people with anxiety disorders generally respond best to a treatment plan involving medication and psychotherapy.
Anxiety disorders are typically treated with three categories of pharmaceuticals: antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medications. While medicine will not cure an anxiety disorder, it can help reduce the comfort caused by symptoms and help reduce their effect on your daily life and functional ability.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is the most common treatment for anxiety disorders. It focuses on identifying negative or maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns, shifting them toward more positive, productive habits, so you are better prepared to cope with stressors. While working with the support and guidance of a mental healthcare provider, you may also learn practical coping strategies to help you manage your symptoms and stress reactions.
Develop a new way to confront your fears and control your reactions to them through systematic exposure to the subject of your phobia. Repeated controlled exposures will help you build an emotional tolerance, so you can better direct your reactions.
Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Mindfulness and goal-setting exercises help reduce the discomfort associated with your anxiety symptoms.
Gain a community of others who likely experience similar anxiety symptoms while benefitting from the knowledge and expertise of a mental health professional.
Recognizing Anxiety Disorders In Children
While children and adolescents can and do experience anxiety disorders, they don’t always present the same way they do in adults. Young children may be unable to understand or express their emotions and anxiety symptoms adequately. Physical symptoms, such as headache or stomachache, are often more common in younger children. Teenagers experiencing anxiety disorders may display increased behavioral symptoms, such as moodiness, social isolation, or poor school performance.
Helpful Tips To Cope With Anxiety
Identify anxiety triggers.
Establish a healthy, regular sleep hygiene routine.
Evaluate whether you are facing a legitimate threat.
Assess and assign the appropriate level of concern to the circumstances.
Challenge your anxious thoughts.
Set a timer for your anxiety.
Balance negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
Practice relaxation techniques.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise habits.
Track your anxiety triggers and coping skills with a daily journal.
How Poor Sleep Can Affect Anxiety
According to Harvard Medical School researchers, there is a strong link between a lack of adequate sleep and negative shifts in mood and outlook. The research shows that even temporary disturbances in your regular sleep pattern can cause a drastic change in your overall attitude and mindset. However, the effects dissipate when you resume healthy sleep habits. Just as you need good oral hygiene to care for your teeth and good personal hygiene to care for your body, you need good sleep hygiene to care for your mental well-being. Maintaining poor sleep hygiene for an extended period can negatively affect your mental and physical health.
When To Reach Out For Help
While anxiety is a standard part of life and something everyone experiences occasionally, it can become problematic when it interferes with your life and causes functional impairment. If your anxiety feels like it never goes away, consider speaking to your physician or mental healthcare provider to ask about an assessment for an anxiety disorder.
How Therapy Can Help You Cope With Anxiety
If you or your child is experiencing anxiety that never stops, consider working with a licensed therapist online 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, shifting toward adaptive, positive habits. Flexible appointment formats through phone, video calls, or asynchronous online chat make it simple to fit therapy into your busy schedule.
According to a recent study, patients with anxiety disorders demonstrated the same results with online CBT as in-person treatments. Online therapy is often much less expensive and involves shorter wait times than traditional sessions. The convenience of attending from home made it possible for patients to make it to more appointments, further increasing the effectiveness of the outcomes. Many also said the added physical distance helped them open up emotionally to their therapist.
Anxiety disorders are part of life for nearly a quarter of the adult American population, but effective treatments are available and accessible online. The information presented in this article may offer insight into anxiety disorders and how therapy can help you or your child manage symptoms, so they don’t interfere with the ability to function.
Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:
How do you deal with never ending anxiety?
If you feel like you have anxiety that is never ending, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder gets treatment much like other anxiety disorders, with a few main treatment options. Usually, these treatment options include anti anxiety medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or commitment therapy, or a mix of these approaches. In cognitive behavioral therapy, patients usually learn several anti anxiety relaxation techniques, including professional medical advice for mitigating the physical and physiological symptoms of anxiety to treat GAD. This is where a medical professional can be especially helpful in the treatment process for a generalized anxiety disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can also offer ways to react and respond to environmental factors that can trigger anxiety. With this treatment, patients also learn how to identify the signs of stress, symptoms of anxiety, and how to react to these things in the moment. CBT teaches tactics that target the mental and emotional response of the patient to their situation, and how certain characteristics of their own reactions can mitigate the effects of their generalized anxiety disorder.
Other professional medical advice for treating high functioning anxiety is to make lifestyle changes to promote overall healthy. For instance, a healthy diet, consistent sleep schedule, and regular exercise can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Can prolonged stress cause anxiety?
Prolonged stress is actually one of the leading causes of anxiety, along with these other causes:
- Changes at work, such as a new job or loss of a job
- Lack of friends or support during a specific season in life
- Changes in friends, such as changing schools or moving to a new place
- Abuse (verbal, sexual, physical, and/or emotional)
- Relationship problems (with friends, families, and/or a romantic partner)
- Emotional shock, often following a traumatic event in life
- Pregnancy, giving birth, and/or transition into parenthood
- Death or loss of a family / loved one
People who experience prolonged stress are at a much higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder or clinical depression. They may also suffer from physical symptoms of stress, such as trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, stomach problems, and headaches. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, prolonged stress can lead people to constantly feel tired, which can lead to a whole host of other mental and physical health issues. One of the most common issues is generalized anxiety disorder.
When your anxiety is too much?
When you feel like your anxiety is just too much, there are many different ways to solve problems arising from your generalized anxiety disorder. Some of these solutions are great for the here and now, while others are more long term lifestyle changes.
One of the most effective ways to beat anxiety in the moment is deep breathing. Taking deep breaths is great way to relieve stress in general, and it’s a strategy that you can use as soon as you start to feel the fight or flight response kicking in. Whenever you are faced with a specific trigger or you start to feel anxious, take several deep breaths to help clear negative thoughts and calm your body and mind.
Reducing stress in your life overall is another way to help treat an anxiety disorder in both the short term and long term. While you can’t just stop worrying and make a generalized anxiety disorder go away overnight, there are a few lasting lifestyle changes that can help you stay healthy, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms and set you up for a more successful recovery from your generalized anxiety disorder.
This one is important: you need to get enough sleep! Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep – even if it means you need an extra hour or two of sleep each night – can really help to reduce anxiety symptoms. Getting enough sleep can eradicate your difficulty concentrating, and you’re less likely to worry excessively when adequate sleep is a normal part of your life.
Next, you should include exercise in your daily life to treat GAD. This doesn’t mean you have to live at the gym: you can take a stroll around the neighborhood or practice yoga exercises at home to manage stress and relax your brain and body. Exercising consistently can reduce feelings of anxiety and promote muscle relaxation; when you relax, it’s easier to manage your anxiety. Also, it’s best if you exercise in the great outdoors.
Additionally, you can limit alcohol intake, cut back on caffeine, and stop using recreational drugs to help manage feelings of anxiety. Alcohol, caffeine, and drugs affect both the physical body and the mind, and they have lasting effects on your physical and mental health. Even though you may drink these beverages to relax, consistent consumption can actually add to the tension in your life by increasing your body’s production of stress hormones. Instead of drinking caffeine or alcohol, have a clear glass of water to stay hydrated and set your mind and body up for success.
Meditation is another method to treat anxiety. Meditation is the process of calming your mind and body so that you can rest and relax on a deeper level. For extra support with meditation, you can get help from a professional, or even start out with videos and resources available for free online. Making meditation part of your daily life doesn’t have to be a difficult or serious thing: it’s just about getting into a space where you don’t feel restless, and taking the time to relax and reflect.
Some medical professionals might recommend medications as a means of coping with generalized anxiety disorder when self help isn’t enough. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, anti anxiety medication is specifically formulated for treatment of an anxiety disorder, so before taking any medicine for anxiety management it’s crucial and necessary to talk with a doctor and get a clear diagnosis for an anxiety disorder.
Finally, seeking support from a mental health professional or a support group is a great way to treat a common anxiety disorder. Therapy treatment provides a safe space where you can manage settings and safety process your stress and anxiety. Most therapists will use a cognitive behavioral treatment to help you identify the triggers for your anxiety, and to really recognize what causes the stress. Then, the treatment will focus on different ways to manage the stress and anxiety. The treatment can help you establish and maintain necessary skill and strategies that will help you cope with stress and anxiety for the rest of your life.
Support groups operate much in the same way. Support groups are a great option for people who don’t feel comfortable approaching friends or families about their anxiety disorder. In a support group, you are free to talk with other people who have the same symptoms, and who are also looking for techniques to manage their symptoms and negative emotions. These groups are led by a mental health professional.
What does crippling anxiety feel like?
Crippling anxiety is a mental health issue that usually presents itself in the form of panic attacks. Panic attacks occur when a person’s body loses control and reacts sharply, quickly, and extremely to the stress or traumatic event that triggers their anxiety with the standard panic symptoms. When a person exhibits panic symptoms, they have a pounding heart, rapid and shallow breathing, and extremely tense muscles. They are often unable to communicate throughout the course of the panic attack.
Of course, only a mental health professional can offer diagnosis and treatment for an anxiety disorder. If you, a friend, or a family is experiencing crippling anxiety, you should reach out to a mental health professional for treatment options.
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