Anxiety disorder is among the most common mental health issues in the United States. Each year, around 40 million Americans over the age of 18 experience anxiety disorder. Even though anxiety disorders are common, they can cause serious consequences in your life, affecting your health, sleep, relationships, school, and work. Anxiety disorders are treatable, but only around 36.9 percent of people get the treatment they need. People with anxiety disorders are five times as likely to visit the doctor and around six times more likely to be hospitalized for mental health problems.
The causes of anxiety are complex, and these disorders are likely caused by a host of contributing factors rather than just one. Factors can include heredity, environment, past trauma, and others. People with anxiety may also have other mental and behavioral health problems, such as depression and anxiety. About half of the people diagnosed with anxiety also have depression. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around half of people who have a substance use disorder also have a mental health disorder.
The most common anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder, which affects around 6.8 million adults. That accounts for more than 3% of the adult population in the country. Anxiety treatment will depend on the specific disorder you have, co-occurring disorder, and the medications and therapies you respond to. No single treatment method works for everyone. In many cases, treating anxiety will also mean treating other underlying conditions like drug and alcohol dependence and depression.
It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and what you can do if you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms. Seeking treatment is often the first step to getting relief from troubling symptoms.
But what are the types of anxiety disorders, and how can you begin to address anxiety symptoms? You can learn more about anxiety disorders and treatment options below.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are five major types of anxiety disorders and they each share some similar symptoms. Worry and fear that’s difficult to control are common across these disorders. However, the subject, intensity, and cause of that worry may change based on the type of disorder you experience. Here are the five types of anxiety disorders and how they may affect you:
- Generalized anxiety disorder. This is the most common type of anxiety disorder. It involves hypervigilance, excessive worry, fear, emotional distress, intrusive thoughts, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, sweating, and fatigue. It can even cause physical pain symptoms, muscle tension, heart palpitations, and chest pains. Anxiety may center on a specific fear, but it may also not have any obvious cause. Worry and fear are hard to control and dominate your thoughts.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that’s characterized by recurrent, intrusive thoughts that lead to repetitive actions. These thoughts are called obsessions, and uncontrollable actions are called compulsions. Obsessions can dominate your mind and make it difficult to focus on anything else. Compulsions are often done as “rituals” that can temporarily relieve obsessive thoughts.
- Panic disorder. Panic disorders are similar to generalized anxiety, with periods of intense fear, chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, and heart palpitations. The panic symptoms can be so frightening that people with the disorder continue to have low-level anxiety in anticipation of another panic attack.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that a traumatic event causes. It can be triggered by assault, accidents, disasters, or witnessing violence or trauma inflicted on others. PTSD can cause flashbacks, which are sudden moments of fear and stress when you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event.
- Social phobia. Social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder. It’s characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear centered around social interactions. Anxiety often stems from the fear of being judged or disliked by other people.
Self-Care Options for Anxiety
If you have an anxiety disorder, there may be some ways to address your symptoms on your own or as a supplement to the treatment you’re receiving from professionals. If your anxiety disorder is mild and manageable without the use of medications, you can take several steps to ease or cope with symptoms. Here are techniques that may help you:
Manage Your Stress
Stress is a major contributor to mental and physical health problems. It can worsen anxiety, and it’s even linked to long-term health issues like heart disease. Limiting stress or finding ways to cope with the stress in your life may help you experience fewer stress symptoms. Staying organized and keeping track of deadlines can help. If you’re struggling to manage stress, talking with a therapist may help you learn better coping skills.
Learn Relaxation Techniques
Taking time to relax and unwind from a stressful day or to prepare for potential stress throughout your day may make you better at dealing with stress. Common techniques include long baths, yoga, sensory deprivation, and meditation. Mindfulness techniques can help you learn to focus on the moment while quieting anxious thoughts.
Develop Good Sleep Hygiene
Getting enough quality sleep is essential to a healthy mind and body. Sleep problems often occur alongside anxiety issues and make anxiety worse. Sleep hygiene refers to everyday practices that improve the quality of your sleep and help you fall asleep faster. This includes setting a set time to go to sleep and wake up, prioritizing sleep over other aspects of life, and avoiding excessive napping.
Exercise is another essential step toward healthy living, especially if you have an anxiety disorder. Exercise keeps your body healthy, which can cause you to feel better in a general sense. But it can also help you avoid some health consequences that could worsen anxiety. Exercise can directly improve your mood by releasing feel-good chemicals like endorphins that boost your mood. Finally, exercise can improve your sleep quality, which also contributes to mental health.
Replace Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can be difficult to shake when you have anxiety, but some methods help you replace them. Some suggest making a list of negative thoughts and then a second list of positive feelings that you would rather have. This is similar to techniques you may go through in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Build Up Your Support Network
Isolation is the enemy of good mental health. A support network of family and friends you can count on is essential. Plus, focusing on other people in your life and intentionally investing in relationships you care about can help you step outside of your own negative or obsessive thoughts. Close friends and family can also help you talk through problems, which is a simple step that often helps significantly.
Psychotherapies for Anxiety Treatment
While some self-care techniques could help you manage your anxiety symptoms, it can be challenging for you to do it all on your own. Psychotherapists and behavioral therapies are important options for many people with anxiety disorders. General talk therapy can help you work through problems with a professional, learning new ways to cope with some of the challenges you’re facing.
Behavioral therapies are extremely versatile treatment options for many psychological and behavioral health problems. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is about learning to examine your thoughts and how they may be contributing to negative behaviors. Changing the way you think about stressors and triggers can help you cope with them more effectively.
There are also some specific therapies for specific disorders. For instance, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that was designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It involves talking through a traumatic event while your mind is occupied with some other stimulus, like following an object with your eyes.
Medications for Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety disorders may be treated with self-care and psychotherapies effectively, but many people need help from prescription medications. Some anxiety disorders may be rooted in biochemical problems that can be corrected by specific medications. Several types of medication can be used to treat anxiety disorders. Here are a few varieties and how they work:
Tricyclic antidepressants are a class of drugs that are the earliest used antidepressant medications. They can be used to treat most anxiety disorders, but they aren’t typically used to treat OCD. These antidepressants work by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain, but they can also work with other chemical messengers, which can lead to side effects like drowsiness and fatigue.
Benzodiazepines are popular central nervous system depressants used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and insomnia. They primarily work with a chemical messenger in the brain called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is a neurotransmitter that’s linked to sleep and relaxation. They can cause chemical dependence after a period of consistency that lasts for several weeks, so they typically aren’t prescribed for long-term use.
Antidepressants are used to treat mood disorders, but they can also help with anxiety symptoms. They usually work to increase levels of serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that’s tied to positive moods.