We all experience anxiety at some time or another in our lives. It can keep us alert and cautious when we need to be and it’s normal to have occasional bouts of anxiety as a response to stress, life challenges, or major decisions. Most anxiety tends to resolve as you work through the issues you are struggling with. However, if you have anxiety disorders, the worries don’t go away so easily and you may experience frequent, intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.
Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States, affecting nearly 20% of adults and almost 10% of children and adolescents? There are several types of anxiety disorders.
Generalized anxiety disorder—The most common anxiety disorder includes excessive anxiety or worry across different areas, such as relationships, finances, and health. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance. Common symptoms include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep problems, and feeling restless, tense or on edge.
Panic disorder—Repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). Feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
Social anxiety disorder—Also known as social phobia, it involves a significant fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, judgment, self-consciousness, or rejection by others.
Separation anxiety disorder—This is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
These risk factors may increase the development of anxiety disorders.
Trauma—Children who have endured abuse or trauma or have witnessed traumatic events are at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also may develop anxiety disorders.
Stress due to an illness—Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
Personality—People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others. Also, anxiety disorders can run in families.
If you are feeling anxiety that is severe enough to disrupt your daily activities and relationships. it is important not to ignore or minimize these feelings. You can take these steps to help reduce the impact of symptoms if you are anxious.
Seek help early—Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be more difficult to treat if you wait to get help. Find an effective counselor or therapist. Consider getting a complete physical examination by your primary care provider to ensure there are no health issues you need to address.
Stay active—Participate in activities you enjoy and that make you feel good about yourself. Participate in social interactions and caring relationships, which can lesson your worries and provide a sense of community and support.
Avoid alcohol or drug use—Alcohol and drug use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you’re addicted to any substance, quitting can make you anxious. If you can’t quit on your own, see your physician or seek a support group to help you.
Use stress management techniques—Often, simple stress management techniques can greatly reduce feelings of worry and anxiety. These can include relaxed breathing, guided imagery, meditation, regular exercise, healthy eating, journaling, engaging in creative activities (such as painting, gardening, ceramics, or dance), and social support.
If you would like to learn more about anxiety disorders and/or integrative approaches to other mental health issues, check out our Certificate in Integrative Mental Health or our individual Course in Anxiety Disorders: An Integrative Approach.