Anxiety: What It Is And How To Get Help

Updated June 18, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team
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What is anxiety? It's something everyone feels from time to time. A little anxiety can even help us to solve problems and make decisions. However, too much anxiety can be paralyzing and keep us from doing the things we want to be able to do.

Anxiety can be hard to understand. It can also be debilitating to live with. Fortunately, anxiety is treatable. With a little support and a lot of hard work, anxiety can be abated. Keep reading to learn more about anxiety—what it is and how to recognize the symptoms—and how you can get help if you are dealing with an increased level of anxiety.

What exactly is anxiety?

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Experiencing symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety, like stress, has its roots as a survival tactic. Anxiety was the feeling our ancestors had when they perceived a threat. For example, if someone was about to be attacked, anxiety could trigger the flight or fight response needed to survive.

In our modern world, anxiety can be a nuisance. Nothing is threatening our lives, but the pressures of modern life can trigger anxiety as if there were a threat to our lives. This feeling can impair us in both the short and the long run.

Anxiety episodes can come and go, lasting for a while, and then stay dormant for years. Other times, people will suffer from anxiety in a more continuous fashion, making daily life a struggle.

The symptoms of anxiety

There are many symptoms you may experience when you're feeling anxiety. Some may be due to everyday anxiety and will pass once the stressor is gone, some may be due to more sustained anxiety. Here is a short list of just a few symptoms of anxiety:

  • You may panic, have intense fear, or just feel uneasy, even if there is no reason to. No matter what you do, you can’t calm yourself down.
  • You may experience shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and feel numb, sweaty, or tingling in the hands or feet. All these symptoms can make you feel like you're having a heart attack, but you’re not. A panic attack can make you rush to the hospital, only to be told you’re fine.
  • Your mouth may be dry all the time, even if you drink water.
  • You may feel nausea and dizziness.
  • Your muscles may be tense.

If you're feeling one or more of these symptoms, you may have anxiety. The problem is that everyone’s anxiety experience is different. Poor concentration, difficulty talking, weird headaches and pains, and fatigue can also be signs of anxiety.

If a person is feeling a number of these symptoms all at once, they may feel like something is majorly wrong with them. For example, if someone has a sudden bout of headaches, nausea, and fatigue, they may panic and go visit their doctor, maybe even the ER, and learn nothing is physically wrong with them. Anxiety can be especially bad for hypochondriacs, who frequently feel like something is wrong with their health.

If you feel like you are experiencing symptoms associated with anxiety, talk to your primary care physician or seek help from a psychologist or therapist.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are quite a few anxiety disorders, each one with its own characteristics. Your doctor or therapist can help narrow down which type you are experiencing.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, involves a constant feeling of uneasiness. It’s okay to worry about life events from time to time, but GAD makes it so you’re constantly worrying, and this can destroy your productivity and your sanity, making you feel like you have no control over anything. GAD is the most common form of anxiety, affecting millions.

Social anxiety

Social anxiety involves an intense fear of public spaces and going out to socialize. If a person is somewhat shy and a bit introverted, this isn’t social anxiety. Someone with social anxiety has to battle every day just to get out and talk to people. They may experience intense bouts of anxiety every time they need to be around people, and it doesn’t get better over time.

Panic disorder

A panic disorder occurs when you are constantly having panic attacks or fear you may have a panic attack. Panic attacks are intense bouts of anxiety. One of the biggest comparisons to a panic attack is feeling like you're having a heart attack. Your arm may go numb, your chest may tighten, your heart may start beating fast, and you may have difficulty breathing. You may call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room, feeling something terrible is happening. However, you’re physically fine. Your heart is working well. You just experienced a panic attack. These can be terrifying to go through, and no matter how many times you have one, each time is alarming.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a fear of being in open spaces outside. You feel that by going into a large, open space, something is going to hurt you, and you have intense anxiety because of it. Mild agoraphobia means that you feel a bit uncomfortable going outside, but you can manage. Intense agoraphobia can mean that you never leave your house. This can socially isolate you from everyone else if left untreated.

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)  is when you experience intense anxiety after being reminded of a traumatic event you’ve experienced. It’s common to have soldiers returning from war or someone who has been abused, physically, emotionally, or sexually experience PTSD. There are many ways a PTSD episode can be triggered for someone who has it, such as smells, thoughts, or memories.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves obsessing over a thought, an object, or something else, and you start to feel anxious unless you perform that task. For example, you may obsess over how unclean your hands are, so you wash your hands. It makes you feel a bit better, but you still are obsessing over your hands. You keep washing them, but nothing seems to take your thoughts off them. This is OCD. OCD can make daily life a struggle.

Any phobia

Any phobia can be some type of anxiety disorder. Some phobias are mild. You may feel uneasy in a high place and may try to avoid them. However, other phobias can be hard. If you’re afraid of riding in planes, it prevents you from traveling to many places.

The cause

It’s can be hard to determine what exactly causes someone's particular anxiety disorder. As mentioned before, it’s a natural defense mechanism we all have, and when it goes off in a world that’s no longer dangerous, it can be debilitating. The three main causes include genetics, environment, and psychological.

Anxiety disorders can be passed on. When it comes to the environment, someone’s traumatic past can be a reason for an anxiety disorder, such as experiences with abuse, neglect, or injury.

Psychological reasons can vary, and one example of a psychological reason for an anxiety disorder is bad thought patterns. Once you start thinking anxious thoughts, it can be a rough cycle that’s hard to break.

Treatment

So, how does one treat anxiety? Anxiety doesn’t have one specific cure, but it is treatable through a combination of medication, therapy, and other lifestyle changes. You and your doctor or therapist can discuss what combination will work best for you.

Medicine

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Experiencing symptoms of anxiety?

Some antidepressants can help treat the symptoms of anxiety, along with other types of medication. Everyone is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all pill out there. You may be put on different medication types and doses before finding the one that is best for you. A good anxiety medication can reduce your episodes and the severity of those episodes when they do strike. 

Therapy

Counseling and therapy can be very helpful when it comes to treating anxiety. There are many forms of therapy out there, each treating anxiety in a different way. Some types of therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT involves changing how you think. Whenever there is a thought that can trigger your anxiety, CBT strives for you to take that thought and replace it with something else. For example, if you’re worried about a deadline, you should strive to accomplish it instead of worrying.
  • Talk therapy may help your anxiety if a traumatic event in your past caused the anxiety. While you can’t change the past, you can come to terms with your past through different therapy techniques. Sometimes, you must act out your past and resolve it that way. Other times, you’re taught how you can let go and move on.
  • Mindfulness may be taught as well. Mindfulness involves you living in the present and not worrying about the past and the future. It can help you be aware of any changes in your body and strive to keep your body in check at all times.

Lifestyle changes

Changing your diet, exercising more, or getting into a healthier routine can reduce the anxiety you’re experiencing. Exercise can release feel-good chemicals in your brain, stopping your anxiety. A good diet can give you the nutrients needed to reduce your anxiety. A routine keeps your mind off your anxiety.

Takeaway

Anxiety is a wide umbrella of different disorders and symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, visit a healthcare provider and start treating it. You may wish to seek advice and assistance from a therapist to help you address your anxiety problems. 

Online cognitive behavior therapy (outlined above) has become an accepted treatment for anxiety. It works the same way as in-person therapy, but because online CBT is done when you're in a comforting location, this may increase its effectiveness. 

BetterHelp is an online platform with licensed therapists standing by to help you with your anxiety. They can meet with you via text, telephone, or video call, whichever is best for you. You can connect with a therapist at a time that works with your schedule.

Don't let anxiety rule your day. With some support, you can overcome your anxiety and experience a calmer daily life.

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