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What is Anxiety and How is it Treated?

writtenByWritten by: Sydney Garrow
Sydney Garrow

Sydney Garrow

Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.

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reviewBy Reviewed by: Ken Cosby M.D.
Reviewer

Ken Cosby M.D.

Dr. Ken Cosby received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine (Washington, DC) and completed his research post-doc work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health including the National Heart Lung Blood Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

March 1, 2021 Read Time - 8 minutes

What is Anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is a physical and emotional reaction you have to potentially stressful or dangerous circumstances. It’s a biological reaction that helped humans evolve hundreds of thousands of years ago by allowing us to recognize and survive threatening situations.

Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. It’s characterized by temporary worry or fear, perhaps caused by events such as a big test, an important presentation, or a looming life decision.

Most people experience anxiety in stressful situations and in fact, anxiety is actually a healthy response from our bodies. It acts as our own personal warning system, preparing our bodies to get us out of a potentially dangerous situation. It’s important to know that you’re not alone in feeling anxious every once in a while. 

If you find that anxiety is creating problems in your life, becoming unmanageable or all-consuming, you might consider looking into whether you have an anxiety disorder, as they differ from typical anxiety caused by stress.

Understanding the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders is important because one is a mental illness that might require care from a doctor or therapist, and the other is an unpleasant emotion that pops up during certain circumstances, and then goes away.

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

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What Are Anxiety Disorders? 

Although the two might get confused, anxiety and anxiety disorders are quite different things. Anxiety is a natural reaction to heightened situations, while anxiety disorders are a mental health illness.

If you find that you are intensely, excessively, and constantly worried or fearful (even over everyday situations), there is a good chance that you may have an anxiety disorder.

Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to cope with this, and recognizing what mental illness you have is always a step in the right direction. Some common anxiety disorders include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder 
  • Agoraphobia 
  • Panic disorder
  • Separation anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Selective mutism 
  • Phobias of specific objects, concepts, or situations 
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder 

There are many more disorders beyond this list, and you can even be diagnosed with unspecified anxiety, which means your condition does not meet any certain specifications but is serious enough to be interfering with your life. 

Symptoms of Anxiety

Common anxiety symptoms are:

  • Feeling nervous
  • Being restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

If these symptoms are frequent and interfere with daily life, they may be considered an anxiety disorder.

What Causes Anxiety? 

Anxiety can be triggered for all kinds of reasons. As mentioned before, stressful life events can create anxiety for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have an anxiety disorder.

If you experience occasional anxiety it’s helpful to learn what causes it for you, and how to either avoid those situations or triggers or build up coping mechanisms for dealing with them. 

Anxiety disorders can also be triggered by a multitude of things, some are purely natural, and some are nurtured (meaning from experiences that you’ve had).

Some of the triggers or risk factors for anxiety disorders include: 

  • Existing mental health disorders. Depression and anxiety are often packaged together, and this is true for other mental health disorders as well. 
  • Personality or nature. Some people have the brain chemistry or disposition that lends to creating stress and anxiety more, and this can develop into a more significant issue with anxiety. 
  • Physical illness. Anything that adds immense stress to your life can be a risk factor for developing anxiety, and having a serious illness or medical condition is a common reason for stress building up. 
  • Trauma. Trauma experienced in either childhood or adulthood is commonly a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders. 
  • Build up. Big events or a collection of stressful issues in life may bring about excessive anxiety that triggers a serious disorder. 
  • Drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse or withdrawal can worsen or trigger anxiety or anxiety disorders. 
  • Family history. If anxiety runs in your family, there is a higher risk that you could develop an anxiety disorder, or deal with recurring anxiety to some degree. 

Read: Effects of Social Media on Mental Health


What is an Anxiety Attack? 

An anxiety attack is a sudden episode of intense panic or fear. Anxiety attacks are also referred to as panic attacks and can be very scary for those experiencing them.

Knowing the signs can help you understand what to do and how to stop a panic attack, or be able to recognize when an attack is coming on and implement preventative measures, such as deep breathing.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of an anxiety attack include: 

  • Being nervous, restless, or tense 
  • Sensation of passing out
  • Trouble breathing
  • Change in temperature 
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Feeling detached 
  • Hyperventilating 
  • Nausea 

Anxiety attacks usually take around 10 minutes to build, and they don’t last much longer than 30 minutes. For some people, anxiety attacks can last longer though.

Different people will have different warning signs and symptoms, so if you’re not sure whether you’ve been having anxiety attacks or not, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor.

A large issue with anxiety attacks, is the cycle of having anxiety over experiencing another attack. If you’re frequently experiencing anxiety attacks (whether they’re triggered by specific things, or occur out of the blue), it’s best to seek medical or psychiatric help to determine if you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Talk to an Online Therapist PlushCare-App-Steps

What Is Social Anxiety? 

Social anxiety disorder consists of having fear over social situations and avoiding them to a degree that your quality of life and your responsibilities are negatively impacted.

Feelings with this disorder often include:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Feeling judged
  • Embarrassed, and scrutinized by others in social settings

Someone with social anxiety may avoid situations where they need to be around people they do not know well, or large groups. Those with severe social anxiety may not want to have any contact with others.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? 

You may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) if your anxiety is disproportionate to the situation you’re worried about itself.

This specific anxiety is characterized by intense worry over activities or events, even including normal day-to-day activities. 

For example, you may feel extreme anxiety over something like leaving your house or making a relatively simple decision, such as what to eat or wear.


Related: Get Anxiety Treatment Online


What Is Separation Anxiety? 

Separation anxiety disorder typically occurs during childhood. It’s characterized by severe anxiety over being separated from one’s parents to a degree that such reaction is deemed excessive for whatever developmental stage the child is at. 

What Is Good for Anxiety? 

Wondering how to relieve your anxiety? Some proven practices that are good for anxiety include:

  • Physical exercise
  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualizations
  • Calming music
  • Eliminating the stressor if possible
  • Writing out your worries or fears
  • Talking to a friend or mental health professional about your anxiety
  • Taking anti-anxiety medication such as antidepressants

If your anxiety is interfering with how you function on a daily basis, or you suffer from extreme panic attacks, it is likely a good idea to speak to a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, to get a treatment plan. 

If you have been experiencing anxiety due to events in your life, it’s important to figure out ways to relax, decompress, and learn how to cope with it in a healthy way.

No matter your level of anxiety, it’s never a bad idea to seek help from a medical or mental health professional to learn coping mechanisms and treatments.

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Talk to an Online Therapist PlushCare-App-Steps

Anxiety Treatment Online 

Speaking about your issues, getting diagnosed, and getting treatment is easier than ever in our world today.

You can speak to licensed online doctors and online therapists at PlushCare, easily, immediately, and affordably without having to leave the comfort of your home.

Our board-certified primary care physicians can diagnose and treat your anxiety disorder. If necessary, the doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication that is not classified as a controlled substance. Meet with a doctor by booking an online appointment here.

You can also meet with our top California licensed therapists for ongoing emotional support and development. Book an online therapy appointment here. (CA only, more states coming soon).

Read More About Anxiety

Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

nih.gov. Anxiety Disorders. Accessed December 3, 2020 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

mayoclinic.org. Anxiety Symptoms. Accessed December 3, 2020 https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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