We all worry from time to time. For some people, that worry can become overwhelming — even debilitating. This level of worry isn’t just simple concern or fear. It’s anxiety. And left untreated, it can interfere with your job, education, relationships, and health. Here’s what you need to know about anxiety, how to take care of yourself and when to seek professional help.
What are anxiety disorders?
An anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for several anxiety-related mental illnesses. One of the most common anxiety disorders is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is what most people think of when they think of anxiety. It’s marked by excessive worry relative to the situation. People with GAD feel they can’t control their worry — or that, by worrying, they can stop bad things from happening, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
The ADAA reports that more than three percent of U.S. adults experience GAD in any given year. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from it.
Other anxiety disorders include:
- Agoraphobia (fear of specific places)
- Panic disorder (sudden panic attacks)
- Specific phobia (fear of specific objects or situations)
- Social anxiety disorder (fear of social or performance situations)
- Separation anxiety disorder (fear of being parted from someone)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (anxiety related to a traumatic event)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (caused by uncontrollable and recurring thoughts or behaviors)
How common are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety happens across age groups. Every year, more than 19 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder, according to the NIMH. More than 30 percent will experience anxiety at some point in their lifetime.
Anxiety affects children, too. More than seven percent of children aged 3 to 17 have diagnosed anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 30 percent of adolescents experience an anxiety disorder during their youth, reports the NIMH. For most people with anxiety, symptoms begin to appear around age 21.
How anxiety can impact physical and mental well-being
Anxiety disorders can disrupt your life. They can affect your job, school and relationships.
Like other mental illnesses, anxiety disorders can cause physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, and trouble concentrating. People with GAD often report headaches and stomach aches, according to the ADAA.
Anxiety also puts you at risk of other mental illness. People with GAD often have co-occurring major depression.
Tips for tackling anxiety
The good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable. But you need to ask for help. Not everyone does. Fewer than 40 percent of those dealing with anxiety get treatment, according to the ADAA.
To get a handle on mild symptoms of anxiety lasting less than two weeks, the NIMH recommends the following self-care tips:
- Focus on getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis. Adults should get seven hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise daily. Any kind of movement — from walking around your neighborhood to swimming laps — can help. You may also want to consider yoga, which incorporates both movement and mindfulness (which can also help reduce feelings of anxiety).
- Eat a healthful, well-balanced diet. Focus on consuming whole grains, ample fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Practice meditation. Soothe your mind by listening to a free mindfulness app, such as UCLA Mindful; Stop, Breathe, Think; or Smiling Mind. For more intensive meditation, try an online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, as this can help reduce anxiety, depression and even chronic pain.
- Maintain social connections. Reach out to friends and family to discuss what you’re feeling. If you can’t meet in person, you can connect via Zoom or another video chatting app. Or just pick up the phone.
If your symptoms of anxiety are severe and last longer than two weeks, talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional who can provide the proper assessment and treatment (often a combination of medication and therapy). With professional help, you can get your symptoms under control and take back your life.