Anxiety is a word that is used to describe many different feelings that can include fear, nervousness, tension, and panic.
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but if you’re in a frequent state of anxiety, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder—close to 20% of American adults suffer from one of these disorders, with anxiety impacting their daily life and interfering with normal functioning.
Whatever the cause of your anxiety, it’s not easy to simply reason it away.
In fact, because anxiety is often caused by stress responses in the body or changes to brain chemicals, you cannot simply get rid of anxiety with positive thinking or willpower.
The good news is that there are many ways to treat anxiety.
Many people find relief by using a combination of therapies, like medication, lifestyle, and other home remedies.
In this article, I’ll talk more about what anxiety is, and describe its symptoms.
I’ll explore ways that you can find relief from anxiety symptoms including medications, therapies, natural remedies, and more.
Plus, I’ll cover how to know when you should see a medical professional.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a result of the body’s “fight or flight” response.
Your brain and other hormone-producing glands work together to mount a stress response which is designed to help you cope with a stressful situation.
But when you have an anxiety disorder, the response can be stronger than the actual challenge you are facing, or the stress response continues for too long after the trigger has ended.
These two experiences cause an impairment in daily functioning.
Common anxiety symptoms may include:
- Procrastination or avoidance
- Problems sleeping
- Chest tightness or rapid pulse
- Intrusive thoughts or worrying
- Digestive issues like nausea, constipation, or diarrhea
- Shaking or trembling
- Rapid breathing
There is no single cause of anxiety.
A person may have more than one factor for why they struggle with anxiety, or no easily determinable factor at all.
Common causes of anxiety have been linked with the following 6 categories.
Research continues to study why some people develop anxiety or mental health conditions compared to others, and even as they link some specific genes, there are still many other factors.
Having a family history of anxiety may increase your risk of having anxiety, too, but it isn’t the only cause.
Many aspects of your living environment can contribute to anxiety.
That includes your personality, but also your family life or childhood experiences.
Some people have personalities that may be more prone to worry, but that is not the same thing as developing an anxiety condition.
Work conditions, personal relationships, and your support network may all contribute to the potential for anxiety if there is frequent stress, overload, or burnout involved.
Recent or past traumatic events can increase anxiety.
This may be short-term, or it can turn into a contributing factor for an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition.
Types of trauma that could contribute to or worsen anxiety include:
- Military combat
- Natural disaster
- Sexual assault
- Childhood abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual)
- Sudden loss of a loved one
- Physical attack
- Domestic violence
Sometimes, medication side effects can cause or worsen anxiety.
Some potential triggers include:
- Corticosteroids like dexamethasone
- ADHD medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin) or dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall)
- Medications that contain caffeine, like migraine relief drugs
- Anti-seizure medication like phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Some medications that treat asthma like fluticasone-salmeterol (Advair)
- Medications for Parkinson’s disease like carbidopa-levodopa (Parcopa, Rytary)
Underlying medical problems
Other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders can cause anxiety or mental health conditions, or they may occur separately.
Cardiovascular disorders, hormone imbalances, and metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes all have the ability to cause anxiety symptoms or to worsen anxiety conditions.
Not everyone with these or other medical conditions will experience anxiety, though.
It is still an individualized response on how your brain responds to the physical challenges or stress associated with chronic conditions.
How to Deal with Anxiety
There are many ways to deal with anxiety.
What works for you will depend on:
- The cause of anxiety
- Other health conditions
- Your support network
Below we will explore treatments, like medication and therapies, which can effectively treat anxiety conditions.
Natural remedies can also work alongside these, or on their own for milder or short-term anxiety.
The most important thing to know is that you do not simply have to live with anxiety, or feel that it is your issue to solve alone.
You did not cause your anxiety, and your healthcare provider, as well as others in your life, can be part of a support team to help you find relief.
There are several prescription medications that can help treat anxiety.
- Antidepressants: Two types of antidepressants may be helpful for treating symptoms of anxiety or anxiety disorders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are widely used and tend to be generally tolerated well, though they can take 2-4 weeks before they start improving symptoms. Common SSRIs used for anxiety include escitalopram (Lexapro) and paroxetine (Paxil). Another class of antidepressants, serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), may also be used. Among SNRIs, duloxetine (Cymbalta) is a first-line choice for anxiety.
- Anti-anxiety medication: Buspirone (Buspar) is a type of medication known as an anxiolytic, which means that its primary method of action is to decrease symptoms of anxiety by balancing brain chemicals. Some people respond better to antidepressants for anxiety relief while others may respond better to buspirone.
- Benzodiazepines: These are a class of psychoactive medications that, unlike other anxiety treatments, work very quickly. They are typically used for short-term relief, primarily because they have a high risk for dependence and abuse. Benzodiazepines are controlled substances. They include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
Psychotherapy or counseling can help address anxiety conditions.
In some cases, it can work alone to help alleviate anxiety.
Other times, it works best with medication.
There are different types of talk therapy or therapeutic approaches that can work for managing symptoms of anxiety.
Your therapist will use an approach that is likely to help your specific condition and symptoms.
Therapy options for anxiety include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people challenge and reframe unhelpful thought patterns. It also helps develop better coping skills, and helps improve and focus on a more balanced mental, physical, and emotional outlook.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy is an approach that focuses on building emotional regulation and mindfulness into daily life patterns.
- Exposure therapy is a treatment that helps patients overcome fears or causes of anxiety by facing them in a safe, controlled way.
In addition to therapy and medication, natural remedies can support your overall well-being and help decrease symptoms of anxiety.
Knowing your triggers
A therapist or healthcare provider may be able to help you identify specific things that trigger anxiety.
Some may be from dietary sources, like caffeine intake, but others could come from specific interactions with people at home, work, or school.
By talking about what makes you anxious, or things that happened leading up to anxiety attacks, a therapist may be able to help you proactively plan for or avoid triggers.
You can consult with a therapist in person, or even remotely through a telehealth appointment.
By filling out a free assessment, you can text with a K doctor about your symptoms in minutes.
You may be referred to an in-person clinician if you are to be prescribed medication for anxiety.
Diet alone doesn’t cause anxiety or cure it, but nutritional factors can contribute to or increase symptoms of anxiety.
A well-balanced nutritious diet is important for many aspects of health.
Your brain makes neurotransmitters that regulate mood; if there are key deficiencies, it may lack the ability to keep brain chemicals balanced on its own.
While all nutrients are needed in the right amounts, some are more likely to be associated with anxiety conditions or brain health if you do not have enough in your body.
Anxiety responds positively to regular exercise.
Exercise can also improve the function of the HPA axis, a network of glands in the body that run the stress response.
With anxiety, the HPA axis becomes overly activated, trapping the body in a “fight or flight” response.
Exercise improves mood, lowers stress, and decreases anxiety responses.
Yoga is a type of physical activity that especially helps with anxiety relief.
Sleep is important for all aspects of health, but being low on quality sleep can worsen mental health and increase anxiety symptoms.
If you struggle to get good sleep, or anxiety makes it hard to sleep, some natural remedies may be able to help.
Aromatherapy can have calming effects on anxiety and may also improve relaxation and sleep.
Meditation and mindfulness practices, which could include guided meditation or deep breathing, can help with anxiety symptom relief.
They can be especially effective when paired with other treatments for anxiety relief.
Sleep hygiene, a term for ongoing, healthy sleep practices, can also improve sleep quality.
These include keeping regular sleep and wake times—even on the weekend—avoiding caffeine and other stimulants a few hours before bed, and not watching TV or using your phone just before sleep.
When to See a Doctor or Mental Health Professional
There is a difference between having occasional moments of anxiety and having anxiety impair daily functioning.
If symptoms of anxiety happen often or impact your quality of life every day, speak with your healthcare provider.
If you are not sure how significantly your anxiety is affecting you, consider the following as signs that it is time to get help from a healthcare provider:
- You have thoughts of self-harm, or struggle to see the value in living
- You think that you have an anxiety disorder, but don’t know what to do next
- You are unable to focus or do well in work, school, or other aspects of life because anxiety is interfering
- You feel constantly overloaded with thoughts of worry and fear, and you are not sure how to stop the thoughts
- You have a history of other mental health conditions, or have a family history of anxiety conditions
- You have recently had a baby or experienced other major hormonal changes
- You have other medical conditions and take prescriptions that could be contributing to anxiety symptoms
A healthcare provider can consider your symptoms and experiences and make appropriate recommendations.
You do not have to have anxiety impact your daily life or figure it out on your own.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable mental health care with the K Health app?
Get started with our free assessment, which will tell you in minutes if medication could be a good fit. If yes, we’ll connect you right to a clinician who can prescribe medication and have it shipped right to your door.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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