Overcoming Extreme Anxiety: Treatment Options And Tips

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis
Updated February 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

If you live with extreme anxiety, you likely know that excessive fears and worries can be life-altering, but there can be many ways to overcome anxiety symptoms, such as going to therapy to reduce anxiety. While some people who experience anxious thoughts may feel isolated and alone, anxiety disorders are generally the most common mental illness in the United States, potentially affecting more than 19 percent of adults each year. There may be many effective treatments for anxiety, and research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is typically one of the most effective. Lifestyle changes and habits that may be helpful can include regular exercise, quality sleep, a healthy diet, mindfulness, and maintaining healthy relationships. It’s generally recommended to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional in person or online if your anxiety symptoms negatively impact your everyday life.

Types of anxiety disorders

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Anxiety can make you feel under attack

Although some symptoms might overlap, there are generally five distinct types of anxiety disorders.

Generalized anxiety disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder may feel worried or nervous even when there is no reason to be. These feelings of anxiety or dread can interfere with daily life and persist for months or years.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Typically better known as OCD, the onset of this anxiety disorder is often gradual and can become all-encompassing. These individuals may experience irrational thoughts and fears, and many partake in rituals like frequent hand washing, organizing, or counting to ward off obsessive thought patterns. However, these rituals usually don't lead to long-term relief and may instead reinforce obsessions.

Panic disorder

People experiencing this type of anxiety disorder may have sudden bouts of intense fear, as well as physical symptoms, potentially including chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. These bouts of fear are often called panic attacks. Treatment usually focuses on identifying what triggers the panic attacks and managing anxiety as it occurs.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

More commonly known as PTSD, this often-crippling disorder usually results from witnessing or experiencing a frightening event. It can stem from trauma in childhood or adulthood, and causes may include physical violence, mental or emotional abuse*, natural disasters, accidents, terrorist attacks, or combat. 

*If you or someone you know is witnessing or experiencing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Social anxiety disorder

Also referred to as social phobia, symptoms of this disorder often include fear and excessive worry related to social situations. Some individuals only experience symptoms in certain conditions (e.g., eating or drinking in the presence of other people), while others may have difficulty in all social situations.

Phobias

In addition to the five major types of anxiety disorders, approximately 19 million adults in the U.S. live with phobias. Often, these phobias begin in childhood, with the average age of onset being seven years old. Common phobias can include:

  • Mysophobia - fear of germs
  • Aerophobia - fear of flying
  • Claustrophobia - fear of small spaces or rooms
  • Agoraphobia - fear of open or crowded spaces
  • Arachnophobia - fear of spiders
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Co-occurring conditions

Coexisting physical or mental health conditions can exacerbate anxiety disorder symptoms. These conditions can complicate treatment. Depression can be common among those experiencing anxiety, as can bipolar disorder, eating disorders, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and substance use disorders.

It can be essential to be upfront and honest about your medical history and symptoms so that any underlying or co-occurring conditions can also be addressed and treated. Remember that treatment may take longer if you're experiencing severe anxiety or multiple mental health conditions.

Tips for coping with extreme anxiety

"I feel like my anxiety is ruining my life. Is there something I can do?" Managing anxiety may not be as difficult as you may believe, and there may be many things you can do to calm yourself down when you start to feel anxious. While none of these tips may cure your anxiety, they may help you ward off symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Learning how to cope with anxiety can involve a variety of approaches, potentially including mindfulness techniques, exercise, therapy, and medication. Never start or stop any form of medication without the guidance of a licensed medical professional.

  • Exercise. Movement can reduce stress and anxiety while improving mood and overall mental and physical fitness. Whether it's a 10-minute walk or a 45-minute sweat session, exercise can provide hours of relief from anxiety and depression symptoms. Try scheduling movement into your daily routine. Remember that if you enjoy an activity, you're more likely to stick with it.

  • Prioritize sleep. The ADAA reports that sleep deprivation may lead to anxiety disorders. Lack of sleep and increased anxiety can become a vicious cycle, as stress and anxiety can cause insomnia and other sleep issues. You can improve your sleep hygiene by avoiding stimulants before bed, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine, and establishing a relaxing nighttime ritual.
  • Practice mindfulness.  Studies show that mindfulness meditation can relieve stress and anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness meditation may include calming breathing techniques and guided imagery. It may not matter whether you are on the beach or in the middle of a metropolis; you can meditate anywhere. According to Harvard Medical School, a great deal of emerging evidence supports mindfulness.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Mind-altering substances can cause or worsen anxiety symptoms. It's usually best for individuals with anxiety to avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. If you love your morning cup of joe, you may want to switch to decaf. Caffeine is typically viewed as a stimulant that can exacerbate anxiety.
  • Quit smoking. Your anxiety may lessen considerably if you quit smoking altogether or reduce nicotine consumption as much as possible.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Eating a well-balanced diet is another lifestyle change that may help you in your journey of how to overcome anxiety or manage symptoms. Eating nutritious foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients, for example, may be beneficial. Eating well-balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding simple carbohydrates may help stabilize your mood and emotions. Looking out for any upticks in anxiety after eating can also provide valuable insights into which foods could be contributing to your symptoms.
  • Disrupt your routine. When you feel anxious, you might go for a walk or take a few minutes to practice breathing techniques. Anxiety can feel paralyzing, so it can be important to shift gears as soon as you notice symptoms.
  • Stay social. It can be easy to isolate yourself when anxiety sets in, but maintaining healthy relationships can combat stress and release stress-reducing hormones.

Treatment options

While everyone may experience occasional anxiety, if you're living with debilitating symptoms that you can't manage on your own, you may need professional help to overcome them. Therapists often use cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you identify anxiety-invoking triggers and unhelpful thought patterns. This type of treatment generally teaches you to adopt new helpful coping strategies while recognizing and changing unhelpful behavioral patterns.

Your therapist may tailor your treatment to meet your individual needs. While the principles used in CBT can treat individuals with severe anxiety disorders, you and your therapist will likely collaborate to form a personalized treatment plan. In some cases, your therapist may combine therapies, potentially implementing CBT with other therapy techniques, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), biofeedback, or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

iStock/Kobus Louw
Anxiety can make you feel under attack

Get the help you need

If you’re ready to start anxiety therapy, you can attend in-person treatment or meet with a therapist online. Online therapy can be ideal for those with extreme anxiety symptoms because it can often be intimidating to call around for an appointment and travel to a new location before meeting a new therapist face-to-face. Online therapy can empower you to get the help you deserve from the comfort of your own living room or any other location with an internet connection.

Research shows that online therapy for anxiety can be highly effective. One review of 14 studies found that online treatment generally leads to a 50% improvement in symptoms of multiple conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. 

Takeaway

Extreme anxiety can affect every area of your life. There are some things you can do on your own to cope with the symptoms, such as cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, getting plenty of sleep, and staying social rather than isolating yourself from others. If you find that your anxiety symptoms are making daily life challenging or impacting your overall well-being, it’s generally recommended to seek the help of a therapist or another licensed mental health professional. An easy way to get started may be to connect with a therapist through an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

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