What Is Anxiety

It is normal to experience occasional anxiety, which can manifest as tension, worry, uneasiness, and apprehension.  But an anxiety disorder is characterized by pervasive anxiety and can disrupt your life and your health. There are many types of anxiety disorders, which can sometimes be crippling conditions that cause intense emotional and physical reactions.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting 18% of the adult population and 25% of teenagers in any given year. Most anxiety disorders get better with a combination of medication, therapy, and counseling.  Some people also benefit from lifestyle changes.

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term that covers several common psychiatric disorders; while each has different symptoms, all involve excessive nervousness or fear about future uncertainties based on real or imagined events. To qualify as an anxiety disorder, the anxiety needs to interfere with day-to-day living for a period of six months or longer.

The American Psychological Association recognizes several types of anxiety disorders:

A panic attack is a sudden bout of intense distress. Your heart may beat quickly, or you may have trouble breathing. Panic attacks often cause chest pains or feelings of being choked or smothered. If you suffer regularly from panic attacks, you may be diagnosed with panic disorder.

 A phobia is an irrational fear. It may be a fear of something specific, such as spiders, bats, or the dark. Or it may be more general, such as social phobia, in which social or performance situations make you nervous and you try to avoid them.

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may have trouble getting your mind off certain things. You may have a worry that doesn’t go away, or an overwhelming feeling that you must regularly perform a seemingly meaningless task, such as repeated hand washing or counting the same coins over and over again.

 Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder can make it very hard to move forward after experiencing a traumatic event—causing you to relive that experience over and over.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a feeling of constant worry or nervousness about life in general.

Severe anxiety may also be a symptom of some other illness, such as drug or alcohol abuse, thyroid problems, or depression.

What Causes Anxiety

The causes of anxiety disorders are not clearly understood. Some, such as acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, occur after a specific event, but it’s not always clear why some people develop anxiety disorders and others do not.

Severe anxiety may also be a symptom of some other illness, such as drug or alcohol abuse, thyroid problems, or depression. If your anxiety is caused by another condition, such as alcoholism, depression, or a hormonal disorder, your doctor may need to first treat the underlying condition.

Risk Factors For Anxiety

You are more likely to experience an anxiety disorder if:

  • You are female
  • You had traumatic experience in childhood, or saw something terrible happen to someone else
  • You’ve had a stressful life situation, such as financial troubles or a serious illness
  • You have a personality disorder or a nervous personality type
  • You have relatives with an anxiety disorder
  • You abuse alcohol or other drugs and substances

Diagnosing Anxiety

A typical doctor’s visit for anxiety will include

  • Questions about your symptoms and personal history
  • How long have the symptoms been going on
  • Does anything make you feel anxious
  • A questionnaire and/or a psychological evaluation
  • A physical exam

The results of this visit will help your doctor determine

  • Whether you have an anxiety disorder
  • What anxiety disorder you have, if you do have one
  • Whether a separate medical problem is causing your condition

Symptoms of Anxiety

Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms, but all involve excessive nervousness or fear. Specific symptoms may include:

  • Nervousness, worry, or panic
  • Feeling powerless
  • A high heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired


Most anxiety disorders get better with a combination of medication, therapy, and counseling. Some people also benefit from lifestyle changes.With proper treatment, you can get your anxiety disorder under control.

Living With Anxiety

Anxiety is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to run your life. Taking care of your health can help you deal with stress—try to stay active and eat properly to improve your overall health. Start with what you can manage, and build on that only when you’re ready. The goal is to lower your stress, not to increase it.

  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish, but don’t try to do too much at once with a complicated diet or exercise routine that takes lots of extra work or planning.
  • Breathing exercises and other techniques can help, both long-term and in the midst of a stress or panic attack. There are many techniques you may try, such as yoga, tai chi, or repeating a word or phrase. Take the time to find what works for you. It may be something ordinary, like a hot bath, a daily walk, or squeezing a tennis ball.
  • If you like to read, taking the time to enjoy a good book may make a difference.
  • If religious faith is central in your life, prayer may be beneficial.
  • If you feel like you can’t keep up, it helps to get enough sleep, and to reduce your commitments to what you can manage.
  • Talking to a friend or joining a support group can also help take the weight off of you.

If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It’s key to find a mental health provider who makes you feel accepted and at ease. Trusting your therapist or psychiatrist is essential for treatment. Stick with the therapeutic plan, including medication if your doctor prescribes it. If you feel like something’s not working, tell your doctor or your therapist so that they can reassess and possibly adjust your treatment regimen.


If you think you may have an anxiety disorder, your doctor has several screening tests and questionnaires available to check your state of mind.


No one knows for sure who will develop anxiety disorders, but if you find yourself feeling worried, there are things you can do to get your nerves under control before they become a problem:

Lean time management techniques to soften day-to-day stress.

Keep a journal. Sometimes wrting things down can help you let it go. If you see a therapist or counselor, your journal can provide clues to what causes your stress and what helps.

Get help early. Anxiety can be easier to treat if you see a therapist or counselor before it causes real problems.

Avoid drug or alcohol abuse. When you suffer from anxiety, drinking or using other drugs can turn into a vicious circle. If you find it hard to quit on your own, talk to  your doctor or find a support group.

Medication And Treatment

Lifestyle changes are often a key part of anxiety treatment. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and progressive relaxation can be excellent tools to get your anxiety under control in the moment and in the long term. Other lifestyle changes that can help include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Good sleep habits
  • Healthy eating, including vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains
  • Quitting or cutting back on stimulants (including caffeine and cigarettes) and sedatives (including alcohol)
  • Lowering stress levels and situations that cause high anxiety.

Medications that can be prescribed by a doctor:

  • Antidepressants. These medications influence the activity of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) thought to play a role in anxiety disorders. Examples of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), imipramine (Tofranil), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR). Citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro) also can be effective.
  • BuspironeAnti-anxiety medicine that is highly used for general anxiety disorder.
  • Benzodiazepines. Alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) are the most common form of this drug. Usually causes sedation and works faster compared to other anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Benzodiazepines are generally used only for relieving acute anxiety on a short-term basis. Because they can be habit-forming, these medications aren’t a good choice if you’ve had problems with alcohol or drug abuse. Medications will need to be monitored and watched over time since most of these drugs take several weeks for them to start fully working. Some doctors will prescribe a Benzodiazepine for a short period along side with another medication to give patients relief from the anxiety symptoms. 

Complementary and Alternative Treatment

Some herbal remedies may help, although more research is needed. Herbal remedies that some people use for anxiety include:

  • Valerian root helped some people in studies, but for others it had no effect. Don’t take valerian for more than a few weeks at a time, because it can cause headaches or sleepiness.
  • Passionflower is mostly safe if you take it properly, but it may cause dizziness, drowsiness, or confusion. There is not enough information yet to know whether passionflower is helpful for anxiety.

Avoid kava kava, as it may damage your liver, even if you don’t use it for long.

Always talk with your doctor before taking any medicine, including herbal treatments or supplements. Some alternative remedies may have side effects, or interact with other medicines you take.

Care Guide

Stick with your treatment plan, including medication if your doctor prescribes it. If you feel like something’s not working, tell your doctor or your therapist so that they can reassess and possibly adjust your treatment regimen.

There are also things you can do to help yourself:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Don’t commit to more than you can handle
  • Talk to a friend or join a support group
  • Stay active
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as yoga, tai chi, or breathing exercises to help during an anxiety attack or as part of your daily routine .

No technique works for everyone. And what works for you might not work right away. But if you take the time to take care of yourself, you will be better prepared to get your anxiety—and your overall health—under control.

When To Contact A Doctor

Everyone feels nervous or anxious from time to time. But if you have an anxiety disorder, these worries may be more severe than usual, or they may not go away when they should. Talk to your doctor if

  • Too much worry interferes with your work or your personal life
  • Your anxiety causes other health problem
  • You think another health problem or treatment could be causing your anxiety
  • You have problems with depression, mental health issues, or alcohol or drugs
  • You think about suicide

If you have suicidal thoughts or actions, seek help immediately. Go to the emergency room or a walk-in clinic, call your doctor, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Questions For Your Doctor

If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Some mental health professionals treat all anxiety disorders. Others specialize in specific conditions. When you are considering working with a therapist, it’s a good idea to ask if he or she specializes in your condition, and whether he/she uses different methods for different anxiety disorders.

Trusting your mental health care provider is essential. If you don’t feel comfortable with your psychologist or psychiatrist, find one who makes you feel accepted and at ease. If you don’t have a family doctor, or you aren’t happy with your doctor’s suggestion, you can look here to find a therapist near you .

If you are feeling suicidal or contemplating suicide, visit  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call the right away at 800-273-8255.

Questions For A Doctor

When you go to see your doctor, it’s good to have a list of the questions you’d like to have answered. Take a moment to write down some of the things you want to know.

Your questions for your doctor might include some of these:

  • What do you think is causing my anxiety?
  • Is there anything else that it might be?
  • Is there anything I can do or avoid to help?
  • Should I see a psychiatrist or psychologist?
  • Do you think I should take medication?
  • If so, what medicine do you recommend, and what are the side effects?

Is there anything else I should know about my anxiety disorder?

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