Conditions

What Is Anxiety and How Can You Treat It?

Recognizing that you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder is a vital step on your journey toward feeling better. The good news is that once you’ve recognized that you need help, there are many options out there for support. Usually, you will get the best results when you combine more than one avenue of support.

Wendy Wisner By Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Updated on May 23, 2024

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Anxiety disorders are common. About 19% of American adults experience anxiety in any given year, and as many as 31% will experience it at some point in their lives. Thankfully, with the right support, anxiety is highly treatable. The problem is that many anxiety sufferers do not seek help. Only about 37% of people with anxiety reach out for help, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Part of the reason that so many people don’t seek help for their anxiety is that they may not be sure they are struggling with an anxiety disorder, or they may feel unsure about what treatment options are out there for them. Many also feel shame about seeking help.

Knowledge is power, though, and the first step to healing from an anxiety disorder is understanding what is going on with you, what support options are out there, and recognizing that seeking help isn’t a weakness, but a sign of strength and resilience.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time—it’s part of being human. Maybe you get flutters in your stomach before you give a presentation at work, or you feel on edge before you meet someone for the first time. These are normal reactions to typical life stressors.

Anxiety disorders are a little different. When you have an anxiety disorder, your reactions to common stressors are more intense and debilitating. You also may experience anxiety from triggers that others don’t find stressful, and you may find that feeling anxious dominates your life. The anxiety can make it hard for you to function at home or work, can make it hard for you to sleep, to concentrate, and to socialize with others.

Symptoms and Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety presents itself differently for different people, and can have physical as well as emotional symptoms. Some of the most common anxiety symptoms may involve:

Additionally, there are a handful of different types of anxiety, and depending on the type of anxiety you have, your experience may be different. Some anxiety types only affect people in certain situations, and others are present more of the time.

Here are the most prevalent types of anxiety disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is a type of anxiety disorder where you feel anxiety as a pervasive feeling, and there may or may not be an identifiable trigger. People with GAD may experience these feelings for months or years.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized as being prone to having panic attacks. These attacks involve intense feelings of fear or an impending sense of doom, along with physical sensations like a racing heart, trouble breathing, digestive upset, and chest tightening and pain.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, war, witnessing violence, or losing a loved one. It can also develop as a result of childhood abuse or neglect. Symptoms include flashbacks to the trauma, nightmares, irritability, and a feeling of hypervigilance.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts along with compulsive behaviors. People with OCD often feel a compulsive need for everything to be clean and organized, they may find uncertainty intolerable, and they may have obsessive thoughts that feel intrusive and out of control.

Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder experience extreme stress and fear tied to socializing with others. For some, this may only apply in certain situations, but some people experience this in any social situation.

Different Approaches for Support

Recognizing that you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder is a vital step on your journey toward feeling better. The good news is that once you’ve recognized that you need help, there are many options out there for support. Usually, you will get the best results when you combine more than one avenue of support.

Here are some options:

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy (“talk therapy”) is usually the first type of support people seek to address their anxiety. A licensed therapist can identify which type of anxiety you are dealing with, can help you identify your triggers, and can work on techniques with you to manage your anxiety. Opening up to a therapist can be intimidating, but once you find one you feel comfortable with, getting a chance to share your feelings in a safe space can be cathartic.

Medication

Anxiety can be treated with medication, either fast-acting medication that can stop an anxiety attack in its tracks, or medication you take daily to keep your anxiety in check. It’s usually best to combine medication with talk therapy. Common medications used for anxiety include:

Lifestyle

Lifestyle changes alone usually can’t solve an anxiety disorder, but when coupled with therapy and possibly medication, they can work wonders and help maintain a more balanced state. Lifestyle changes that may can help are:

Different Providers for Support

You might be wondering which type of providers you should seek as you begin to face your anxiety disorder and get help for feeling better. Here’s what to know.

Psychotherapists for Anxiety

People who practice therapy come from many different backgrounds: some are trained social workers, some are psychoanalysts, and some are counselors. It’s important to choose a therapist who is licensed to practice in the state you live in. If you are dealing with anxiety, you will want to find a therapist who is well-versed in anxiety disorders and has experience treating them.

There are several different kinds of therapies that usually work best when it comes to anxiety disorder. The one with the highest rates of success is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In this type of therapy, you are encouraged to become more aware of the thoughts you have that drive your anxiety. As you become more aware of them, you work with your therapist to come up with techniques to manage the thoughts and let them go.

In addition to CBT, other types of therapy that work well for anxiety include:

Some therapists work in-person only, but many will offer online or video options as well. As you start inquiring about therapists, remember that finding someone who you feel comfortable with is the most important thing, and that it’s okay to try more than one therapist until you find the right match.

Who Can Prescribe Medication

While therapists are wonderful for helping you work through your feelings, they can’t prescribe medication, and will have to refer you to an MD or a psychiatrist who can write you a prescription. It’s also important to meet with your PCP when you first suspect you have anxiety so that they can rule out any medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, or heart/lung issues.

Lifestyle Support

As you work on living a healthier, more balanced life, you may need outside support. For example, you might consider attending yoga or exercise classes. For many of us, meditation can be hard when we first start out, and working with a meditation or mindfulness teacher can be beneficial.

Finally, joining anxiety support groups, either in person or online, can be invaluable. It can be affirming to know you are not alone and it can be reassuring to be able to share your experiences with others.

The Bottom Line

One of the things that’s challenging about living with anxiety is that your anxiety itself can make it hard for you to reach out for help! That’s understandable, but reaching out for help will be worth it. There are many options out there when it comes to therapy and treatment for anxiety, there’s a road ahead for you to feel well and whole again.

Whether the first step is talking to a loved one about the idea of starting therapy or searching through our community of in-network, qualified therapists and psychiatrists, help is here. Search here or call our team on 1 (786)244-7690 to book an in-person or virtual session.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Wendy Wisner is a writer and lactation consultant (IBCLC) who covers maternal/child health, women’s health, general health and wellness, mental health, parenting, and education. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Family Circle, ABC News, Parents Magazine, Verywell, Fit Pregnancy, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and elsewhere.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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