Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Anxiety can be a real beast. And while dealing with it can be pretty tough, it may help you to know you’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that 40 million American adults have experienced an anxiety disorder.
But amongst those many millions of people only 36.9 percent get treatment.
And that’s not even counting the people who may not have an anxiety disorder, but rather just occasionally feel overwhelmed by life.
Having ways to deal with your anxiety symptoms is crucial. See, when you have techniques to mitigate those anxious feelings, you’re able to more easily move about your life and enjoy it.
Keep reading to learn more about the signs you may have an anxiety disorder (versus normal situational anxiety) and some techniques that may give you relief.
If you experience anxiety occasionally and only during times that make sense — say, you get a bit jittery before a big, career-defining presentation or right before a first date — that’s likely run-of-the-mill nervousness. You probably don’t need to worry too much about that.
But, if you have a hard time controlling your anxiety a majority of the time over a period of six months, the Anxiety and Depression Association of American says that you may be dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
The following symptoms of anxiety are associated with GAD:
Increased heart rate
Tiredness and/or weakness
Feeling nervous and/or irritable
Feeling panic or doom
But GAD isn’t the only type of anxiety disorder. Here are four other types:
The marker for this anxiety disorder involves recurrent, unwanted thoughts and compulsive behavior — such as the need to repeatedly check if an appliance is turned off or constantly washing your hands.
Intense fear along with chest pain, heart palpitations or shortness of breath are common signs someone is dealing with a panic disorder.
After a traumatic event (like an assault, military combat or surviving an intense situation like a house fire or car accident), some people develop this type of disorder.
When someone feels paralyzingly overwhelmed in social situations, they may be experiencing social anxiety — which is also referred to as social phobia.
It can be limited to very specific situations (like speaking in public) or can be more severe and cause anxiety when someone is around other people.
If you feel you are suffering from any of these types of anxiety disorders, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional.
Now for some good news: Anxiety can be dealt with. Even better, there are a wide range of ways to tackle it — which means you can try various things and see what helps to lower your anxiety level.
And because anxiety can be such a personal experience, it’s a good idea to speak with a mental health professional about any techniques you want to try.
These are some of the things you may want to review with them:
Making time to meditate can be tough, but it might be worth it if you’re looking to calm anxiety. Here’s why: A 2014 study found that 20 minutes of mindful meditation may decrease anxiety by reducing overall brain activity.
There are also published findings from more than 47 randomized clinical studies. These scientific trials showed that meditation can assist people in coping with anxiety and stress.
So, what is mindful meditation? It really hones in on two things: awareness and acceptance.
During mindful meditation, you want to be aware of what is happening in the moment. Often, you’ll be directed to focus on how your body feels or your breathing patterns.
Then, it’s thought that you should accept whatever thoughts come into your head and let them go (rather than dwell on them).
As mentioned above, during mindful meditation you may focus on your breathing. But there are also breathing exercises you can do to help deal with feelings of anxiety.
That’s because breathing influences key parts of our bodies that help regulate emotional well being, like the amygdala.
But just regular breathing isn’t necessarily going to do the trick. The key is to focus on it and use it as a way to stay in the moment.
Interested in learning more? The ADAA has a step-by-step guide to deep breathing exercises.
Working out is important for many reasons. Sweating it out can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, aid in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and so much more.
Beyond the physical benefits, exercise has been found to boost mental health.
A 2013 review of studies found that exercise lowered levels of stress and anxiety and led to overall mood improvements.
One thing to note: These studies were done with animals.
It is recommended that adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.
Therapy or online counseling is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder you’re dealing with, your personality, and the symptoms you’re experiencing, there are different types of therapy that could benefit you.
A mental health provider will best be able to assess which type of therapy could help you. Some of the different types of therapy used to treat anxiety include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT involves identifying patterns and behaviors that may lead to anxiety, and using problem-solving skills to cope.
Exposure therapy: With this, you are asked to confront your fears in a safe environment. It has been shown to help with GAD, among other forms of anxiety.
Dialectical behavior therapy: Originally used for people with borderline personality disorder, this form of CBT is also used to treat anxiety.
Interpersonal therapy: This can help you overcome interpersonal issues that may be affecting mental health — like unhealthy relationships or family dynamics.
Psychodynamic therapy: The thinking here is that past issues may contribute to current feelings, so you’re asked to do lots of reflection in this form of therapy.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety or how it affects your life, a healthcare professional may suggest prescription anxiety medication.
There are a few commonly prescribed medications for anxiety, including:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
To determine if medication could help you and, if so, which one might be best for you, talk to a healthcare professional.
Even reading about various relief techniques for anxiety is a great first step in the right direction. So, applaud yourself for that.
The next step: Determining if you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder or another type of anxiety disorder — like social anxiety disorder or OCD.
Checking in with a mental health professional can help you get the right diagnosis — and in turn, the right form of treatment.
From working out to meditation, there are a wide range of techniques you can incorporate into your life to help quell anxiety.
If those don’t seem to help, and/or you have severe anxiety, a healthcare provider and/or mental health professional can look further into your symptoms and help you determine if therapy, medication or natural calm drops would be good options for you.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.