Anxiety: What you need to know

Person looking down with spiralling thoughts

Most of us experience anxiety at some point in our lives. You might feel anxious when taking a test, crossing a busy street, or making an important life decision.

But for people with an anxiety disorder, these feelings usually last longer and are more intense. They often worsen over time and interfere with everyday life.

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness and affect more than 25 million Americans. There are a variety of anxiety disorders, though many share similar symptoms and methods of treatment.

Who experiences it?

Anxiety disorders are common in both men and women. However, women are more likely to experience them. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. There are a number of risk factors for anxiety disorders. Those include a stressful or negative event early in childhood or adulthood and a family history of anxiety or mental illness.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feeling restless, wound up, or on edge
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Feelings of doom
  • Irrational worries about objects or situations
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Problems falling or staying asleep

 How is it diagnosed?

Your primary care provider will perform a mental health screening. This is an exam of your emotional health. It includes questions about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. If necessary, they can refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. These professionals specialize in diagnosing and treating mental health problems.

How is it treated?

Anxiety disorders are treatable with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Treatment helps most people lead normal, productive lives.

Psychotherapy methods include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches people different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to triggering situations.
  • Cognitive therapy, which helps people identify, challenge, and neutralize unhelpful or distorted thoughts.
  • Exposure therapy, which helps people confront fears so they can participate in activities they have avoided.

Medication can help relieve anxiety symptoms, but does not cure anxiety disorders:

  • Anti-anxiety medications may reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or extreme fear and worry.
  • Antidepressants can improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress.
  • Beta-blockers can relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, trembling, and blushing.

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