New York Times bestselling author, Jodi Picoult, says anxiety is like a rocking chair, "It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you very far."
Known as the most common mental health disorder in the world today, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety disorders affect nearly 19% of the adults in the U.S.
This means that nearly 1 in 5 of every U.S. adult you meet is struggling with anxiety. You could place the blame on our heavy workloads, our increased use of technology, or our ever-increasingly hectic lives, but anxiety is an issue that goes much deeper.
Anxiety is a medical disorder that can manifest into many different types and for a variety of reasons. It is incredibly important to get informed, broaden your awareness, and get the help you or a loved one may need.
To save you the time and the trouble, we have compiled a comprehensive roadmap to deepen your understanding of anxiety and give you the tools for managing anxiety that don’t have to consume your life. The right tools can set you free.
You Might Have Anxiety: Now What?
If there's one thing we can recommend on combatting anxiety, it's to never lead with fear. Whatever anxious feelings you may have about anxiety disorder itself, or whatever loopholes you have in your knowledge of how to deal with it, do not despair. Reading articles like this will give you the tools you need to succeed and grow.
First and foremost, let's define the different types of anxiety disorders. Like many of us, you may want to try and self-diagnose. While this can be somewhat helpful initially, it can be harmful in the long term. While getting informed is the first and most powerful step, we strongly recommend consulting a medical or mental health professional to determine the type of anxiety disorder you may have.
This disorder can manifest in a couple of different ways. One type of OCD shows up as sporadic and unwanted negative thoughts. The thoughts quickly pop into your brain and fill you with grief and anxious feelings. The second kind of OCD is related to behaviors that are deliberate or repetitive. These behaviors are often in place to make you feel safe or secure. For instance, "If I flip this switch ten times, I won't die." Your thoughts and behaviors are rooted in fear and don't have to be logical.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This particular anxiety disorder is incredibly common and affects people across all age groups. If you struggle with social anxiety disorder, you may feel like you are "on the spot" or "on stage" in social situations, and be plagued by a feeling of being constantly seen. You may also have an overwhelming feeling of being seen negatively or embarrassingly.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Often associated with soldiers who have been in combat, PTSD is an incredibly common disorder that affects all kinds of people, not just veterans. PTSD is often caused by the occurrence of a traumatic event that then manifests in the body. If you struggle with PTSD, you may face nightmares, sporadic memories of the event itself, panic attacks, or even random physical reactions such as night sweats.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This particular anxiety disorder is not only incredibly common, but it can be harder to identify than other types of anxiety. We all have to manage the stress in our lives to some degree. GAD sufferers worry and stress excessively. You may get lost or consumed in your worry and lose track of time. Another key factor in this disorder is that the intensity of your physical response is often correlated to the intensity of your mental anxiety. You may struggle with sleep problems, muscle aches, and maintaining focus.
Body-Focused Repetitive Disorders
This disorder can show up in a couple of different forms, but they all have a similar feel. This anxiety manifests in repetitive body behaviors such as nail-biting, pulling on your skin, or even pulling out hair. This hair-pulling behavior has recently been defined as Trichotillomania and can be hard on your body over time.
This type of anxiety disorder is very specific and affects people who hold situational fears. If you fear going outside of your house or struggle being in large crowds, you may be experiencing agoraphobia. A tell-tale sign of agoraphobia is when you begin to avoid any contact or activity whatsoever. This can be incredibly unhealthy and lead to a worsening of the disorder itself.
Anxiety related to separation is often rooted in a traumatic event that affected you in a highly negative way. You then, over time, develop maladaptive behaviors towards separating from someone familiar or even a specific place. This disorder is more common in children but can affect adults as well. Your fear can manifest in negative physical behaviors such as headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, and even intense stomach aches.
Once you become diagnosed and understand which type of anxiety you struggle with, it's time to focus on solutions. Just because you struggle with anxiety, does not mean that your life has to be plagued by it. However, understanding anxiety and gaining deeper insights is the best place to start! You are on the right path.
How to Know If You are Suffering From Anxiety
So we've given you a breakdown of what anxiety disorders exist and what they can look like. Now it's time to determine how that affects YOU.
First, we recommend reading over our breakdown more thoroughly to gain a deeper understanding of your struggles. We believe you are as strong as your resources. Check out this more expansive breakdown of each anxiety disorder by Anxiety Canada that describes "Anxiety in Adults" in lengthy detail. Knowledge is power.
The most important step of all is to consult with a qualified doctor. A medical consultation will get you the formal help you need to conquer your anxiety disorder.
Anxiety vs. Stress
One very big thing to keep in mind when learning about anxiety is to also learn about what anxiety IS NOT. Stress and anxiety are two very different things. They both manifest in the body in completely different ways.
Stress is triggered by a specific negative event or scenario that causes a physical or mental reaction in the body, oftentimes both. It is always spurred on by some event or circumstance that goes south and causes you to react.
Anxiety has a lot of the same physical symptoms as stress, but the biggest difference is that anxiety doesn't have to be caused by anything. If you are struggling with anxiety, you can be in a completely safe and non-threatening situation and all of a sudden have difficulty thinking straight or even breathing. The fear and physical stress that comes with anxiety can be unwarranted, often rooted in other mental and emotional stimuli completely unrelated to the present moment.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is plenty of hope when it comes to treating anxiety and your freedom is well within reach! You may feel plagued by your situation, but anxiety is 100% treatable. You don't have to struggle in the dark. You can get the help you need by taking the first step to see a mental health professional and receive a formal diagnosis.
The process of getting diagnosed is different for everyone. We always recommend doing your research and going to a qualified professional that fosters a safe and professional space.
Once you have your diagnosis, the path to treatment can begin.
Treatment is different for each type of anxiety and is best managed in collaboration with your mental health care team. It's also very typical to have a psychiatrist AND a therapist working with you in your treatment process. Your therapist will guide your emotional journey, while a psychiatrist can get your mind and body to a more stable place through the appropriate medication.
Because treatment is not one-size-fits-all, it can be helpful to explore the many forms of treatment that exist.
Online or Virtual Therapy
A great place to begin with anxiety treatment is right at home. You can find countless online therapy resources. It's also worth noting that due to COVID-19, teletherapy is now more easily recognized by insurance companies as a viable form of treatment. This has made it a lot easier to seek treatment without having to worry about the financial aspect of therapy.
Teletherapy has become incredibly popular and is a huge help when treating anxiety, especially if you struggle with a type of anxiety that impedes you from leaving the house or if you have social anxiety. If you or a loved one would like more of an in-depth look at what online therapy can look like, learn more here.
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)
Animals have the beautiful ability to bring calm and instant joy wherever they go. Animal Assisted Therapy is conducted by a licensed health professional who walks you through a variety of exercises with the animal. This particular form of therapy is very helpful for treating PTSD.
One great example is equine therapy. Horses can sense dangerous situations very easily. If a horse senses a strong sense of unease, they will become more anxious themselves. When a horse backs away from someone, it’s likely they are sensing their anxiety. Seeing this can help people identify when they might be anxious and uncover the feelings and sensations in their bodies that come with it.
Using medication to treat your anxiety is a healthy and viable option, depending on your specific needs. Doctors use medications like Benzodiazepines to lower your brain activity, thereby diminishing your more anxious thoughts. This particular medication is incredibly common in treating anxiety. Above all, we recommend that you receive your prescriptions directly from your doctor and/or a licensed healthcare professional.
Cognitive therapy, also known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for anxiety. CBT gets to the heart of your anxious beliefs. Once you decipher which negative beliefs are affecting your behaviors, you can slowly but surely re-train your behaviors. This form of treatment requires a great deal of change when it comes to your "self-talk." Through CBT, therapists will help you rewire your brain to eventually produce more healthy behaviors.
Mindfulness is a natural way to treat anxiety. Zen practices such as yoga or tai chi all can be effective. The purpose of this kind of treatment is to treat your anxiety by first treating your energy state. This is also a great option for you if you are looking for a more affordable, all-natural approach to healing. Countless YouTube channels and online teachers can help you maintain this treatment over time.
Health & Diet
According to the National Institute of Health, science has shown significant links between positive gut health and overall mental health. Science continues to show that our gut and our brain are constantly talking to one another. We cannot stress enough just how important your physical health is to your mental health and anxiety. We encourage you to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
These treatment options can be used alone or in combination. Just as we discussed earlier, treatment for anxiety is not one-size-fits-all—we all respond differently to medications and treatments.
We advocate for a holistic approach to your recovery. Try exercising and improving your diet as both are proven to have tremendous benefits. Also feel free to incorporate mindfulness exercises or CBT therapy. There's no right or wrong answer. Your ideal treatment plan depends on what YOU need to best heal.
How to Manage Anxiety
When it comes to managing anxiety, it is incredibly helpful to start by thinking of mental health as mental “hygiene.”
Just like you wake up every day and brush your teeth, get dressed, and eat breakfast, you can care for your mental well-being. Developing good mental health “hygiene” is the key to mentally shifting your attitude towards anxiety treatment.
Treat yourself with as much kindness as possible. Anxiety is a stressful and nerve-wracking disorder to combat, so love yourself and remind your body that it's managing a great deal.
Let's figure out what to do when things get tense. Let's talk about panic attacks.
Understanding & Managing Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety attacks (also known as panic attacks) can feel debilitating. They consume your whole body and you may feel like you can't breathe. An anxiety attack is often provoked by no one specific thing and it can strike at any time. Anxiety attacks can also be triggered by high-stress events, absolutely, but it's the ones you don't see coming that can be the scariest.
Oftentimes, people experience symptoms such as extreme headaches, difficulty breathing, or even vomiting. Your body essentially goes into a state of shock until it calms down. Many people describe a feeling of heaviness on their chest like an elephant is sitting on their heart center. This is a panic attack.
What is the difference between General Anxiety and Panic Attacks?
The biggest difference between general anxiety and a panic attack is your ability to control it. A panic attack often elevates heart levels and skyrockets your blood pressure. General anxiety may be a mental loop you can break away from. Panic attacks are also typically unprovoked and happen sporadically.
Managing Your Stress & Triggers
First and foremost, do what works for YOU. Consult with a medical professional. Get diagnosed. Receive counseling. Get medication. Whatever the solutions are for you, don't be afraid to embrace them. You can live your life without crippling anxiety. Be kind to yourself, and always ask for help if you need it. Choose courage. Choose kindness.
Getting Over the Stigma
One of the biggest deterrents to seeking treatment for many people is the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
Always remember, your disorder is not a defect and it doesn’t define you. Anxiety can be your superpower. Oftentimes, the things that lead you to develop these disorders are also the things that unlock the strength of who you are.
If you ask someone who has learned to manage an anxiety disorder how they feel, they often express how proud they are! They learn about the genetics or the trauma that caused their disorder and realize how courageous they've been all along. They simply discover that their body is trying to cope with the world around them. You are, in fact, a superhero. Your very own superhero.
So whenever you face stigma in the workplace or with friends and family, remind them we are all experiencing trauma or genetic misgivings and we all respond differently. We are all allowed to find what works for us and honor the history of where we've been.
How to Explain Your Disorder to Others (And Employers)
Opening up about your anxiety disorder publicly can be difficult. It can be hard to find the words to explain, and we can become embarrassed. It's understandable.
But honesty is truly the best policy. Begin slowly and start with your friends and family, people you feel more comfortable with. Tell them as much or as little as you like. We do recommend going through a simple WHO, WHAT, WHY & HOW format for reference.
Explain WHO is suffering, (you in this case), and explain that this is an active part of your life.
Explain WHAT your specific struggles are. Do you struggle with agoraphobia or GAD? Remember, education and knowledge is power, so educate them on the differences.
Explain, if you feel comfortable, WHY this disorder may have come about and what triggers you may now possess. Letting your close loved ones know about your triggers can be incredibly helpful to both of you.
Explain HOW they can help. Oftentimes those around us don't know how to respond to mental health concerns because no one has ever told them how to help.
We want you to feel as prepared as possible! So below are some super helpful resources that can not only educate but open your mind to new options.
Basic Mental Health Resources — Check out our very own compilation of mental health resources and organizations that can help you if you are struggling today.
Anxiety Overview — This article by Drug Watch can provide you with another helpful explanation of resources and options for recovery.
Helpful Reads — Books can be a great place for information and future reference. If you ever feel lost, pick up a book that helped you in the past. Check out this great read in Healthline about the best books for learning about anxiety.
Moving Forward and Living Your Best Life
Managing anxiety can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. Hope and healing are always within your reach.
Remember, never lead with fear and always treat yourself with as much kindness as possible. Love truly heals.
Begin your path to healing today and check out our available resources by getting in touch with one of our caring staff members. Our team would be happy to set you up with the appropriate treatment plan that works for YOU.