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An Overview of Anxiety


Anxiety and How to Treat It

There are many things to worry about in this life.  From the big things, like financial and health concerns, to the little things, like worrying you didn’t make enough food for a party, there are many things to worry about, every day.  It’s called anxiety.  What is anxiety?  What is the difference between “worrying” and an anxiety disorder?  What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety? How can you treat an anxiety disorder?  Read on for more information, but don’t worry, I’ll break it down for you.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the United States.  It is estimated that 18.1% of all adults in the U.S. are living with anxiety.  The most common triggers for anxiety are financial concerns, work, children/families, death, health concerns and major life changes. Anxiety is the result of stress.  Unfortunately, “stress is a part life, and is a natural reaction to the pressures we face. While the most common causes of stress often can’t be avoided, it’s important to cope with stress” before it leads to an anxiety disorder.

Do I Have an Anxiety Disorder or am I Just Stressed?

It is possible to worry about many things in life and not have an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety is highly dependent on your reaction to stress, not just the presence of stress.  Worrying about how you will pay your bills or about your family members is completely normal.  However, “when worry and fear interfere with normal functioning, it’s an anxiety disorder.”

What are the Types of Anxiety Disorder?

The most common anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  Other anxiety disorders include Social Anxiety (SAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Specific Phobias.

What are the symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?

The diagnosis of an anxiety disorder is based on several criteria.  The first is “excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of events and situations” for at least 6 months.  Excessive is a subjective term, but can be interpreted as “more than would be expected for a particular situation or event.”  The second criterion is difficulty in controlling your worry, fear or anxiety.  This includes difficulty relaxing or coping with stressors. Finally, if you notice 3 or more of the following symptoms for most days during the past six months, it is suggested you speak to a doctor or medical health professional.

1. Feeling tense or restless.
2. Becoming tired or worn out easily.
3. Difficulty concentrating.
4. Irritability.
5. Feeling excessive muscle tension.
6. Difficulty sleeping.

Remember, it is normal to become anxious about the various stressors in life, but if the intensity of your anxiety does not correspond to the severity of the situation, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.  (In other words, is worrying about something as minor as making enough food for that party causing you disabling panic attacks?)

In order to be considered an anxiety disorder, the symptoms noted above must cause you distress or significant problems functioning in your daily life.

How can I treat Anxiety Disorder?

 In order to treat an anxiety disorder, you must confide in a medical professional who can accurately diagnose if you have an anxiety disorder, as well as they type and severity. Some anxiety may actually be related to certain medical issues, or even medication you are taking for other health problems.  It is important to tell your doctor your medical history and any prescription or non-prescription medications you are taking.

There are multiple treatment options and they vary based on the type and severity of your anxiety.

  1. 1.     Medication- There are many prescription medications available to help alleviate symptoms.  If your doctor determines that medication would benefit you, he or she will help you find the most effective medicine and the correct dosage.
  2. 2.     Psychotherapy- The most effective therapy for controlling anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is focused on changing behaviors, thinking patterns and reactions to stress.  Joining a support group may also be helpful in learning to cope with anxiety. Psychotherapy may be helpful alone or in addition to other treatment modalities.
  3. 3.     Get Regular Exercise– 30 minutes of exercise a day can significantly decrease panic attacks and anxiety.  Exercise is a great way to distract your mind, while at the same time helping your body get stronger and healthier.
  4. 4.     Relaxation Exercises– To help your mind and body relax try practicing a gentle, relaxing form of martial arts like Tai Chi, Yoga or QiGong. You can also try deep breathing exercises (called Diaphragmatic Breathing) which can help relax the body and mind, reduce chemical imbalances in the body and increase the levels of oxygen in your body.
  5. 5.     Herbal/Holistic Treatments– There are many herbs that can be used in the treatment of anxiety if you cannot handle or do not want to take prescription medication, however, be certain you are going to a specialist that is certified in holistic medicine.  (Sorry, the guy at GNC is not a certified herbalist!)
  6. 6.     Complementary Therapies- Although these are not direct treatments for anxiety, you may want to try massage, acupuncture or aromatherapy to help relax the body and mind.

Remember, don’t stress, anxiety can be managed and you can learn to relax and control stress.  It is important to read up on anxiety and ways to manage it, as education is one of the greatest tools you have for your own health!  You are not alone.


Photo courtesy of Luca Rossato via Compfight

An Overview of Anxiety

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). An Overview of Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Oct 2013
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