Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or nervousness, usually about a particular event or situation with an unknown outcome. It is common for everyone to feel anxiety occasionally.
Debilitating anxiety involves an intense or extreme sense of fear or dread about everyday situations or tasks. Some people may also refer to this excessive anxiety and worry as “apprehensive expectation.” This type of anxiety can make it difficult for a person to function.
A person who experiences persistent and overwhelming anxiety may have an anxiety disorder. Such disorders are common and highly treatable.
This article outlines the symptoms and causes of debilitating anxiety. We also discuss the treatment options available.
Anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person, but usually fall into the following three categories:
- physical symptoms
- thought patterns
- muscle tension
- racing or pounding heart
- muscle twitching or tremors
- shortness of breath
- upset stomach
- frequent need to urinate
- persistent worrying
- feelings of dread or apprehension
- believing the worst is going to happen
- “all or nothing” thinking
- being watchful for danger
- avoiding situations or events that cause fear
- feeling irritable or frustrated in situations that cause fear
- social withdrawal
- seeking reassurance
- compulsive actions, such as repeatedly washing hands
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million adults every year. This figure is equivalent to 18.1% of the U.S. population.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), researchers believe that anxiety disorders can occur as a result of both genetic and environmental factors.
- Genetic factors: Evidence suggests that anxiety disorders can run in families. Therefore, people may be more likely to have an anxiety disorder if they have relatives who have an anxiety disorder.
- Environmental factors: Traumatic or stressful life events can also trigger anxiety disorders. Examples include:
- losing a loved one
- experiencing abuse or violence
- living with a long-term illness
Below are some of the treatment options that can help to alleviate debilitating anxiety.
There are a number of different therapies that can help to treat anxiety. The therapy a person receives may depend on the type of anxiety they have, as well as their personal preferences. Some examples include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help people identify and change negative thinking and behavioral patterns that can activate or exacerbate their anxiety.
CBT is a practical, problem-solving therapy. It involves learning and practicing skills, language, and ways of thinking that help empower individuals to have an active role in their treatment. During CBT, a person will work closely with their therapist to:
- learn more about their condition and anxiety triggers
- learn skills or strategies to help control their anxiety
- complete tasks or assignments to practice their new skills and strategies
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), CBT is a highly effective and long-lasting treatment. People typically experience the benefits of CBT after 12–16 weeks of consistent practice.
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