Anxiety: Symptoms, Types, and Treatment Options

Anxiety is a normal and healthy emotion. Individuals may experience higher  levels of anxiety before an interview or before giving presentation. However, when a person feels consistent and overwhelming anxiety, it could be a sign of a mental health condition. 

Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health conditions characterized by excessive fear, worry, and apprehension. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the United States and approximately 19% of the general population has a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can interfere with everyday life and feelings of anxiety can be difficult to control. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are highly treatable and  many patients notice significant improvement with therapy.

Symptoms of Anxiety

For most, anxiety involves a combination of psychological and physical symptoms. When the symptoms of anxiety interfere with everyday life, they could be signs of an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Sleeping problems, such as fatigue and insomnia
  • Unexplained aches, muscle tension, and headaches
  • Digestive issues, like nausea
  • Excessive worry
  • Low self-esteem
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Types of Anxiety Disorders

If an individual experiences intense, persistent, and excessive anxiety, he/she may have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. The most common types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Individuals with GAD struggle with chronic anxiety, nervousness, and worry, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Those with social anxiety disorder experience excessive worry, low self-esteem, and excessive self-consciousness in social situations. In some cases, the social phobia is limited to a specific type of situation. In severe cases, social phobia can cause significant psychological distress in everyday social situations, leading to avoidant behavior.
  • Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated panic attacks. For some, the fear of experiencing a panic attack can make it difficult to function on a daily basis
  • Phobias: Individuals with specific phobias struggle with severe anxiety in response to a particular object or situation. In severe cases, phobias can lead to avoidant behavior, causing individuals to avoid everyday circumstances.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Those with OCD experience persistent and intrusive thoughts (obsessions), which lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Individuals with OCD typically use compulsions such as counting or cleaning to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): After exposure to a traumatic event, some individuals develop PTSD. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder experience intense anxiety symptoms after an adverse event ranging from nightmares to self destructive behaviors.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: Individuals with separation anxiety experience excessive anxiety when separated from home or loved ones. Separation anxiety is a normal part of development, but extreme separation anxiety is a common childhood anxiety disorder. In some cases, separation anxiety can occur during adolescence and adulthood.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

Although anxiety can feel debilitating, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. While therapy is typically used as a treatment, some may benefit from a combination of medication and therapy. Treatment options for anxiety include:

  • Medication is often used in combination with therapy. While medication can’t cure anxiety, it can help manage the symptoms of anxiety and increase the quality of life for individuals. It’s important to note that medication is a supplement to therapy, not a substitute.
  • Regular check-ups with a primary care provider are essential because the symptoms of anxiety can mimic the symptoms of medical conditions, such as heart disease. After ruling out possible physical health conditions, a primary care doctor can provide a referral to local mental health services.
  • Self care allows individuals to better cope with everyday stress and strains.To reduce anxiety symptoms, avoid caffeine and nicotine, make time for hobbies, and engage in regular exercise. Research has found that physical activity reduced the symptoms of anxiety by releasing endorphins and alleviating anxiety symptoms. 
  • Having a social support network can make a significant difference in an individual’s ability to manage their mental health. There are support groups available to those who are uncomfortable with opening up to friends or family members. Joining a support group enables individuals to voice concerns, relate to others in a group setting, and learn valuable social skills. Many studies have also shown that support groups and group therapy are valuable treatment components for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

What to Expect from Therapy

Anxiety is not cured after the first therapy session. In fact, most people experience ups and downs over the course of treatment. By seeking professional help for anxiety, individuals are able to explore their anxiety, recognize triggers, and identify the cause of negative thoughts and feelings.

Finding the right therapist is key to success. Individuals who are still hesitant to open up to a therapist after the initial sessions might need to seek a new one. It doesn’t mean therapy isn’t right for the patient, it means the therapist isn’t the right match. Some meet with a few different therapists before finding the best fit for their needs. The sooner individuals seek professional help, the sooner they’ll begin feeling better. Even if anxiety symptoms don’t interfere with an individual’s ability to function, they can still negatively impact a person’s mental health and quality of life. There are many options to help those suffering.