What Psychologists and Psychiatrists Want You to Know About Anxiety Right Now (2022)

If you've been feeling more anxious than usual lately, you're in good company. While some people have lived with anxiety for most of their lives, many others are experiencing it for the first time now that we are in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The good news is that anxiety really isn't a scary word. The more you understand the facts and how anxiety can affect your body (and as a result—your whole life), the better equipped you'll be to take back control. Here are 10 facts that psychologists and psychiatrists want you to know about anxiety right now, so that you can reduce symptoms and live your life to the fullest.

1. Anxiety can be useful.

“People often say they want to get rid of anxiety, but anxiety is programmed into us for a reason,” says Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “We want to anticipate a threat and have our bodies respond when there’s danger.” Unlike stress, which is triggered by something external, anxiety is worry that doesn’t disappear even when stressors are gone. It overtakes your thoughts and causes you to dwell on things that may never come to pass. As was true for our ancestors, who required a bit of angst to survive (watch out for saber-toothed tigers!), anxiety can be motivating: It drives you to meet a deadline, helps you react to daily risks such as cycling in traffic, or spurs you to improve your health. The trick is learning how to use it to your advantage and not let it rule your life.

2. Anxiety may be a diagnosable condition.

Anxiety that starts to interfere with your life may be diagnosed as a symptom of one of various types of anxiety disorders. These may develop from a complex set of risk factors including genetics, brain chemistry, and life events. One of the most common such disorders is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, even if the expectation is unrealistic or unjustified. It’s like having a “worry track” constantly playing in the background of your mind, says Przeworski. If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone: GAD affects about 6.8 million adults in the U.S. Other common anxiety disorders include specific phobias (such as fear of flying or of heights), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder (fear of being judged negatively in social situations).

IS IT HEREDITARY? Anxiety disorders have a genetic component that’s not fully understood. However, as with many other medical conditions such as heart disease, you may have a genetic risk factor but never develop the condition—it’s just something to keep in mind.

3. Anxiety can result in physical symptoms.

In this hurry-up world, we’re not always 100% in tune with what’s going on inside our heads. “Sometimes we don’t recognize we’re dealing with excessive anxiety until physical signs appear,” Przeworski says. Common anxiety-induced symptoms: sweating; shaking; dizziness; a fast heartbeat; migraines; a headache that feels like a tight band is around your head; back, shoulder, or upper neck pain; feeling edgy; or not sleeping. “Sometimes insomnia is caused by temporary stress, but insomnia shouldn’t be a chronic issue,” says Przeworski. The key is to pay attention to your body and be on the lookout for signs (even subtle ones) that something isn’t right.

(Video) Psychologist vs Psychiatrist vs Doctors: What You Need to Know | MedCircle Series

4. Anxiety affects more women than men.

Some research shows that about 23% of U.S. women have had an anxiety disorder in the previous year, compared with only 14% of men. Women tend to engage more in repetitive negative thoughts (rumination), which worsens anxiety. Fluctuating hormones may play a part too, causing you to feel more sensitive or irritable during certain times of the month, after giving birth, and during perimenopause. And of course women are often primary caregivers for kids and aging parents—there’s a lot to worry about, and our brains aren’t programmed to let things go easily! But you can combat the gender effect. “Get good at perspective-taking,” says Catherine A. Sanderson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Amherst College and the author of The Positive Shift. “Distinguish what’s likely from what could possibly happen.” Or tell yourself you can worry about a particular detail at 8 p.m. tonight for five minutes. “By the time 8 p.m. rolls around, you may not even want to worry about it,” says Sanderson.

5. Lifestyle changes can help.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but many kinds of stress-reduction techniques work for dealing with daily worries. For starters, be sure you’re getting enough sleep. A recent study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry showed that sleeping less than eight hours a night was associated with greater rumination. Exercise—walking, yoga, even sex (hello, endorphins!)—can also help you cope with the usual stressors. Or, learn mindfulness techniques to help you live in the moment instead of agonizing over what might happen in the future. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers links to reputable mental health apps. Pinpointing solutions will give you a sense of control.

(Video) Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) - causes, symptoms & treatment

6. Anxiety is treatable.

Only 37% of Americans with an anxiety disorder seek treatment, though the disorders are real medical conditions and not just “in your head.” “A common misconception is that if anxiety has been present for a long time it’s untreatable or unmanageable, but many effective therapies exist,” says Joe Bienvenu, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. One of the most well-studied and effective ones is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches new ways of processing feelings and how to frame events more productively. “For example, with GAD we tend to overestimate the probability of a bad thing happening,” says Dr. Bienvenu. “CBT teaches you to look at how likely it is to occur.”

7. When anxiety disrupts your life, it’s time to get help.

Perhaps you can’t remember a time when you didn’t fret about anything and everything. “If you’ve always had anxiety, you may think, This is who I am,” says Richa Bhatia, M.D., a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist and a section editor for Current Opinion in Psychiatry. But what you think of as “normal” anxiety may be keeping you from living your fullest life. “The question becomes when anxiety is harming your enjoyment of life or your ability to function,” says Dr. Bienvenu. “We ask, is it getting in your way, messing up relationships, or keeping you from being productive and happy?” If you can’t do the things you want or need to do, seek professional help.

FINDING SUPPORT In some parts of the country access to mental health care is limited, but apps such as LiveHealth Online and Doctor on Demand allow you to video-chat with mental health professionals. Your primary care doctor should also be able to give you tools.

8. Identifying triggers can help.

Everyone’s worry-meter is activated by different experiences. Even a happy event such as a job promotion can trigger anxiety as your brain shuffles through the what-ifs: What if I’m not good at my new job? Sometimes what sets this off is physiological, such as a lack of sleep, or psychological, such as spending time with a person who always pooh-poohs your concerns. But learning your triggers is crucial so you can understand and manage them, says Sanderson. To pin them down, start a journal and note your anxiety and what’s going on in your life at the moment.

9. A break from screens could be key.

Your smartphone may be to blame for ramping up your anxiety: A recent San Francisco State University study found that the heaviest users of smartphones were the most anxious, partly because the constant pings interrupted what they were doing and activated the same neural pathways in their brains that once alerted people to dangers such as lurking tigers. The relentless influx of news from traditional and social media doesn’t help. “A few years ago, only the people who lived through a traumatic event were directly affected,” says Sanderson. “Now we can be part of the live experience and see things in a much more vivid way.” Learn to protect yourself: Shut off push notifications, take a break from social media, or limit your exposure to news. To keep worries from interfering with sleep, turn off screens an hour before bedtime and jot down your concerns so you can think about them tomorrow, not at 3 a.m. Try to picture yourself relaxing somewhere peaceful to drift off faster.

10. Sometimes medication is the best treatment.

For some people, medications in conjunction with therapy are helpful. The most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs are antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These have fewer side effects than other kinds, such as benzodiazepines, which can be sedating. It can take a few weeks or longer for medication to help, and you may need to adjust your dose or switch prescriptions before you find one that works. “Medications don’t change who you are or remove all anxiety or keep you from recognizing dangerous situations,” says Dr. Bienvenu. “But they may improve concentration, because you’re not as anxious. You see the world more clearly, not as distorted by anxiety.”

How to Lower Your Anxiety Quickly

While not a replacement for conventional care, mind/body methods like the ones below can help manage anxiety. You can also learn strategies from a therapist or adaa.org.

  1. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you to tense and relax each muscle group, moving sequentially down the body from head to toe. For example, you’d first tighten and release muscles in the face, then the neck, then the shoulders, and so on.
  2. Sensory focus helps you tune in to and bring your concentration back to the sounds, smells, and tastes around you when your mind begins to chew on things. These sorts of mind- fulness exercises shift your brain to the here and now.
  3. Deep breathing relaxes the entire body as you fill your lungs slowly instead of breathing shallowly, which elevates your heart rate. Other helpful breath exercises include meditation and those in yoga and tai chi.

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Prevention.

(Video) What is an Anxiety Disorder?

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Arricca Elin Sansone

Arricca SanSone has written about health and lifestyle topics for Prevention, Country Living, Woman's Day, and more. She’s passionate about gardening, baking, reading, and spending time with the people and dogs she loves.

FAQs

What type of psychologist is best for anxiety? ›

One of our licensed counseling psychologists or clinical psychologists will help you manage your anxiety, learn healthy ways to cope with anxiety symptoms, and take control of your mental health.

What are the 6 main anxiety disorders? ›

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder.

What remains a constant anxiety? ›

GAD is a common anxiety disorder that involves constant and chronic worrying, nervousness, and tension. Unlike a phobia, where your fear is connected to a specific thing or situation, the anxiety of GAD is diffused—a general feeling of dread or unease that colors your whole life.

What is the best coping mechanism for anxiety? ›

Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
  • Keep physically active. ...
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  • Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  • Make sleep a priority. ...
  • Eat healthy foods. ...
  • Learn about your disorder.
20 Jul 2021

What are 5 treatments for anxiety? ›

Here's what you can do:
  • Keep physically active. Develop a routine so that you're physically active most days of the week. ...
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  • Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  • Make sleep a priority. ...
  • Eat healthy.

Is it better to see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety? ›

If the issue you're hoping to address is relationship-focused, say a problem at work or with a family member, you may find what you need from a psychologist. If you are experiencing debilitating mental health symptoms that are interfering with your daily life, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.

What are signs of high anxiety? ›

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

What is high functioning anxiety? ›

“The term high functioning anxiety describes an individual who, despite feeling anxious, seems able to effectively manage the demands of day-to-day life,” says psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD.

What does anxiety feel like mentally? ›

feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax. having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst. feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down. feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you.

What happens to your brain with anxiety? ›

Anxiety happens when a part of the brain, the amygdala, senses trouble. When it senses threat, real or imagined, it surges the body with hormones (including cortisol, the stress hormone) and adrenaline to make the body strong, fast and powerful.

What is the 3 3 3 rule anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

How do I get rid of severe anxiety without medication? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
6 Dec 2017

What is the most severe anxiety? ›

Panic disorder

A person has panic attacks, which are intense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable feelings of anxiety combined with a range of physical symptoms. Someone having a panic attack may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and excessive perspiration.

What is the most common anxiety disorder? ›

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder. The main symptom of GAD is excessive worrying about different activities and events. You may feel anxious a lot of the time if you have GAD.

Is anxiety a disability? ›

Is Anxiety Considered a Disability? Anxiety disorders, such as OCD, panic disorders, phobias or PTSD are considered a disability and can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Those with anxiety can qualify for disability if they are able to prove their anxiety makes it impossible to work.

What do psychiatrists do for anxiety? ›

In addition to prescribing medications for people with anxiety, psychiatrists are also qualified to provide talk therapy and psychosocial interventions. Common psychotherapies associated with anxiety treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.

What triggers anxiety? ›

Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.

Is anxiety a mental health? ›

An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.

What are the 2 types of anxiety? ›

The five major types of anxiety disorders are:
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. ...
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) ...
  • Panic Disorder. ...
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ...
  • Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)

How do psychiatrists diagnose anxiety? ›

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor performs a physical exam, asks about your symptoms, and recommends a blood test, which helps the doctor determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms. The doctor may also ask about any medications you are taking.

What it's like to live with anxiety? ›

Anxiety can be debilitating, especially when it triggers panic attacks. Individuals dealing with anxiety may live in fear of daily activities and feel as if their anxiety dominates their lives. In some cases, people may use substances such as drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their anxiety symptoms.

Is anxiety genetic? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family.

Why is anxiety so common today? ›

We still experience many traditional causes of anxiety such as poor health, difficult relationships, unemployment, poverty and disadvantage, loneliness, work stress, and exposure to violence, trauma, and conflict. Even in our modern world, some of these traditional sources of anxiety are on the rise.

How does someone act when they have anxiety? ›

You may be worried that you will do something or act in a way that is embarrassing. You might feel aware of the physical signs of your anxiety. This can include sweating, a fast heartbeat, a shaky voice and blushing. You may worry that others will notice this or judge you.

Why is my anxiety getting worse as I get older? ›

Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults. This may be due to a number of factors, including changes in the brain and nervous system as we age, and being more likely to experience stressful life events that can trigger anxiety.

Can a psychologist help with anxiety? ›

Psychologists are trained in diagnosing anxiety disorders and teaching patients healthier, more effective ways to cope. A form of psychotherapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective at treating anxiety disorders.

Should I consult a psychiatrist or psychologist? ›

If someone you care about is undergoing lots of stress and shows signs of anxiety and depression, it is best to consult a psychologist. Psychologists will take them through mental therapy sessions to ease their troubled mind. Psychiatrists are best consulted when a person is undergoing severe cases of mental illness.

Can psychiatrist help with anxiety? ›

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health. They can treat anxiety with a variety of treatment modalities, including numerous types of medication and psychotherapy.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? ›

Differences in Practice

Both psychologists and psychiatrists can provide psychotherapy. However, most psychiatrists treat patients primarily by prescribing medication, while psychologists mainly rely on providing talk and/or behavioral therapy.

Is anxiety a disability? ›

Is Anxiety Considered a Disability? Anxiety disorders, such as OCD, panic disorders, phobias or PTSD are considered a disability and can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. Those with anxiety can qualify for disability if they are able to prove their anxiety makes it impossible to work.

How I healed my anxiety without drugs? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
6 Dec 2017

Does anxiety worsen with age? ›

Does anxiety get worse with age? Anxiety disorders don't necessarily get worse with age, but the number of people suffering from anxiety changes across the lifespan. Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults.

What is CBT for anxiety? ›

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It's most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

How long does it take for a psychiatrist to diagnose you? ›

The duration of a psychiatric evaluation varies from one person to another. The amount of information needed helps to determine the amount of time the assessment takes. Typically, a psychiatric evaluation lasts for 30 to 90 minutes.

How do psychiatrists diagnose anxiety? ›

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor performs a physical exam, asks about your symptoms, and recommends a blood test, which helps the doctor determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms. The doctor may also ask about any medications you are taking.

Is anxiety genetic? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family.

What it's like to suffer from anxiety? ›

feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down. feeling like other people can see you're anxious and are looking at you. feeling like you can't stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying. worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen.

What Can a psychiatrist do that a psychologist Cannot? ›

The primary difference between the two types of doctors comes down to medication: a psychiatrist can prescribe it, while a psychologist cannot. In addition to offering treatment through medication, psychiatrists will often conduct talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of treatment.

How do I know if I need a psychiatrist? ›

Inability to Control Emotions

Everyone has moments when they are sad, angry, or irritable, and these are normal feelings to have in life. However, when someone has excessive emotions that they feel unable to control or manage, this is an indication that a psychiatrist may be able to help.

When do I need a psychiatrist? ›

Significant changes in behavior, such as extreme angry outbursts or bouts of sadness. Withdrawal from friends and other normal activities. No longer pays attention to grooming and/or personal hygiene. Confused thinking, inability to concentrate, lapses at work.

Videos

1. #LetsTalkAboutIt: What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
(Psych Hub)
2. 8 Things People with Anxiety Want You to Know
(Psych2Go)
3. Psychologist Explains Anxiety and How to Support Someone With It
(Dr. Henry Cloud)
4. The 2 steps to quiet your anxiety right now
(Mel Robbins)
5. How to cope with anxiety | Olivia Remes | TEDxUHasselt
(TEDx Talks)
6. So You Want to Be a PSYCHIATRIST [Ep. 18]
(Med School Insiders)

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