Anxiety is a natural response to feeling under threat. It causes people to feel worried, afraid, or stressed. It is natural for a person to feel anxious from time to time.
A person may have an anxiety disorder if they regularly feel severe levels of anxiety that impact their day-to-day life. A person’s feelings of anxiety may last for a long time or be out of proportion to their situation.
Anxiety comes in many different forms. Certain situations or tasks, such as public speaking or driving, can make a person feel anxious.
Additionally, a person may feel anxious about their health, certain body functions, or about relationships.
A person may also feel severe anxiety when faced with certain objects, places, or situations. Mental health professionals call this a phobia.
Anxiety can cause a person to feel restless, worried, tense, and unable to relax.
A person may also experience dizziness, a churning feeling in their stomach, nausea, and sweating.
Ways to overcome anxiety
There are numerous ways a person may overcome anxiety besides those listed here. What works for one person may not work for another.
A person struggling with anxiety can talk to a specialist about the best approach for them.
1. Coping strategies
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recommends the following coping strategies for anxiety:
- Relaxation: Practicing yoga, or trying meditation, breathing, massage, and relaxation techniques can help a person cope with anxiety.
- Diet: Eating a well-balanced diet with regular meals and healthy snacks will keep the body healthy. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can also reduce anxiety.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep each night can help a person feel more able to overcome anxiety.
- Achievable goals: Instead of aiming for perfection, a person can try to do their best instead. This can help a person feel more positive about their achievements, and decrease the pressure they put on themselves.
- Perspective: Stepping back from anxious feelings can help put a situation in perspective and make it seem less scary.
- Support: Talking to friends and family or a health professional to get support with anxiety can help a person overcome anxiety.
2. Exercise and fitness
A recent study suggests that regular exercise has similar effects to antidepressant medications and improves anxiety.
The article explains people with anxiety and depression have decreased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotrophin in the brain,
After exercise, BDNF in the brain increases, which may improve symptoms of anxiety.
The ADAA suggests including 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise or 1.25 hours of vigorous intensity exercise each week, or trying a combination of both.
The ADAA suggests jogging, walking, cycling, or dancing three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
Setting smaller exercise goals will make an exercise program feel more achievable, and a person may be more likely to keep up with it for the long term.
A 2016 study concluded that exercise was more effective when done in shorter durations.
The Office on Women’s Health (OASH) lists the following types of medication for anxiety:
- Benzodiazepines: What doctors call antianxiety medication, benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for short periods of time because they can be addictive, according to a 2020 review of the medication. They affect the central nervous system and slow down the body’s functions by increasing the effect of the brain chemical gamma amino butyric acid.
- Beta blockers: According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), beta blockers reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling, a fast heartbeat, and sweating. People can use them as needed. There are also some natural sources of beta blockers, such as omega-3, that help anxiety.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs stop the serotonin transporter (SERT) from removing serotonin from the synaptic cleft in the brain. Removing serotonin from the synaptic cleft means the brain does not benefit from its effects. By blocking the action of the SERT, serotonin levels in the brain can increase, which can improve
generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorders, and social anxiety.
- Tricyclic antidepressants: This type of medication is similar to SSRIs. These medications affect five different neurotransmitter pathways, such as blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. However, they can cause more side effects than SSRIs, according to a 2020 review.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOIs are an older type of antidepressant that work by blocking the monoamine oxidase enzyme, which breaks down serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and tyramine. By stopping the breakdown of these neurotransmitters, their levels can increase in the brain and relieve symptoms of depression, panic disorders, and social phobia. According to OASH, a person should avoid eating certain cheeses and wines if they take MAOIs, and women may not be able to take birth control, some types of pain relief, or cold and allergy medication.
There are many types of therapy a person can try to help overcome anxiety.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, involves a person seeing a mental health professional.
A person can have psychotherapy in a group or on their own.
Types of psychotherapy include:
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to help alleviate anxiety.
ACT also encourages a person to commit to behavior changes that will help them overcome anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on identifying and understanding a person’s thinking and behavioral patterns.
By doing this, a person can change these patterns to reduce their anxiety.
According to the ADAA, people can see benefits in 12 to 16 weeks.
CBT helps a person learn skills they can use throughout their life to overcome anxiety.
Sessions may provide a person with activities or homework to complete to help them progress during their course of therapy.
Exposure therapy is a type of CBT. A person is gradually exposed to the things that make their anxiety worse in a safe environment.
This can help a person feel less anxious about the situations, places, or objects that cause them stress.
According to the ADAA, exposure therapy can be very effective for phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Types of anxiety
There are many different types of anxiety disorder. They include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder is a type of chronic anxiety.
A person with GAD will feel anxious or worried most days for at least 6 months.
A person may feel anxious about their health, work, social interactions, or their situation in life more generally.
A person with social anxiety will feel anxious about social interactions or social performances.
A person may worry that other people will judge them negatively because of what they say or do.
A person may avoid social situations, so social anxiety can affect a person’s work and school life.
Swallowing anxiety is also called phagophobia.
Swallowing anxiety can cause problems with a person’s eating patterns.
According to the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD), a person with swallowing anxiety may:
- over-chew their food
- avoid certain types of food or textures
- feel as though food is stuck in their throat
- find it difficult to start swallowing
A person may develop swallowing anxiety if they have experienced a traumatic event such as choking, regurgitation, or abuse.
Performance anxiety refers to anxiety a person experiences about performing specific tasks.
Studies into performance anxiety in musicians, summarized in a 2017 review, found that singers had higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol when someone asked them to perform in front of an audience.
In some cases, even virtual audiences in a VR headset increased a person’s stress levels when performing.
According to the 2017 review, performance anxiety triggers include:
- taking exams
- public speaking
- sexual performance
- the performing arts
This review suggested that performance anxiety may be a type of social anxiety because it overlaps with the fear of negative evaluations and fear of extreme, negative social costs that characterize social anxiety.
However, the specific mechanisms behind performance anxiety in particular are unclear.
Health anxiety is also called hypochondria.
A person with health anxiety will feel excessive anxiety about developing a health condition, and their worry may be out of proportion with the chances of them developing a particular health condition.
According to the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI), a person with health anxiety may still believe they are at risk of an illness despite having negative tests from health professionals. They may also check their body obsessively or take medical tests more than necessary.
Health anxiety can occur in people who are healthy and in people who have health conditions, regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms.
Both men and women can experience sexual anxiety.
Sexual anxiety can have a negative affect on a person’s sex life, as they may worry about their looks or that they will disappoint sexual partners.
A 2015 study found that over one-third of men in the study had a negative self image of their genitalia, which contributed to sex anxiety and erectile dysfunction.
Results from a 2014 study published in the journal Body Image suggest that body self-consciousness and body shame during sexual activity negatively correlated with sexual satisfaction, according to self-reported measures of these criteria in college women who participated in the study.
Relationship anxiety can occur in new relationships or long-term relationships.
According to a 2015 study, a person may seek reassurance excessively from their partner or silence themselves to please their partner if their opinions or feelings differ from their partner.
According to the ADAA, a person’s driving anxiety may include the following fears:
- driving outside their comfort zone on their own
- getting lost
- running out of gas
- being unable to find a parking spot
- going too fast and losing control
- getting into a car accident
Driving anxiety can affect a person’s social and professional life.
A person with a phobia will experience intense fear about specific objects or situations.
The fear they feel will often be out of proportion with the threat the object or situation presents.
A person with a phobia may take steps to avoid the object or situation, and experience excessive anxiety about encountering it.
Specific phobias can include:
- certain animals
Support systems and resources
A person living with anxiety can use their friends and family as a support network to help them cope with and overcome anxiety.
A person can contact a doctor or mental health professional if they have concerns about their anxiety or are seeking treatment.
There are also many online resources that can help a person find information on anxiety, from mental health support provider directories to national mental health organizations such as Mental Health America (MHA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
The way a person responds to anxiety treatments is very individualized, and one treatment may work for some people but not others.
Coping strategies, lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication can all be part of a person’s anxiety treatment plan.
There are many different types of anxiety, and treatment may be different for each.
As a result, it is important for a person to get the correct diagnosis before seeking treatment in order to increase their chances of overcoming anxiety.