While nearly all of us experience anxiety from time to time, an anxiety disorder is an excessive level of anxiety that persists for at least six months and causes distress or problems in our lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the wide variety of anxiety disorders differ by the objects or situations that induce them; however, they share features of excessive anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities such as job performance and schoolwork, as well as with relationships and self-esteem. Excessive anxiety can be expressed physically through symptoms like a rise in blood pressure, elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, increase in muscle tension, or nausea and diarrhea. Anxious behaviors can include avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations, seeking reassurance, compulsive behaviors (such as checking, repeating and making things “just right”), overpreparing, and restlessness or fidgeting.

Anxiety disorders strike men and women of all races, ages and social status; however (except for obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder), they are about twice as common in women as in men.
  • Avoid caffeine. Reducing or eliminating caffeine intake can often be enough to address underlying sleep issues that are driving anxiety and stress.
  • Eat a healthy diet and don’t skip meals, including breakfast.

  • Get regular aerobic exercise that promotes circulation of oxygen through the blood and causes you to pant or sweat. Think: aerobics classes, biking, cross-country skiing, dancing, high-intensity interval training, jogging, kickboxing, spin classes and swimming.

  • Get adequate rest—at least seven to eight hours a night. If anxiety is keeping you up at night, establish a relaxing bedtime ritual that helps you disconnect from anxious thoughts.
  • Avoid potentially dangerous ways of coping with anxiety, like smoking, alcohol, drug dependence or disordered eating patterns.
  • Find people you can express your feelings to safely. This could be a trusted family member, friend, mentor or counselor.

Stress Management:
  • Try relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, yoga or mindfulness-based stress reduction.
  • Eliminate as many nonessential activities as possible from your daily routine. Figure out what you need help with and delegate (assign chores to your kids, have your groceries delivered, etc.).
  • Avoid taking on more responsibilities. Practice saying no. For example, “No. I’d love to, but I need to focus on ______ right now.”
Medication: Several medications have been developed to combat anxiety. Your therapist or counselor will refer you to a licensed psychiatrist should medications be recommended.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy involves talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist or counselor, to discover what caused an anxiety disorder and how to cope with its symptoms.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This “solution-oriented” type of psychotherapy focuses on modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts by changing negative or irrational beliefs. “Cognitive” relates to changing the thinking patterns that support fears, and “behavioral” relates to changing the reaction to anxiety -provoking situations.
How can I tell if I have an anxiety disorder (vs. anxiety)?
This can be tricky, as different people have different “baseline” levels of anxiety. However, if the amount of anxiety you’re experiencing is causing you to feel upset and unhappy, you should discuss those feelings—and your feelings of anxiety—with a health care professional.

How common are anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are extremely common. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that as many as 33% of American men and women may experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and that 18% of adult men and women (40 million people) experience an anxiety disorder within any given year.

What causes anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders can be caused by biological, chemical or genetic factors. They can also be brought about by psychosocial factors like a stressful work environment, family situation or adverse life event. Some anxiety disorders are caused by certain medical conditions or medications. In most cases, anxiety disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of several factors.

Are there different types of anxiety disorders?

Yes. There are several types of anxiety disorders. Some of the more common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder (ASD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

What if I don’t want to take medication? Do I have options?

Yes. In addition to many highly effective medications, there are several talk therapy options available for treating anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

What happens if I decide not to treat my anxiety?
Symptoms of anxiety and depression can go away and come back throughout life if left untreated, and chronic anxiety can cause problems with relationships, sleep, work, your nervous system and your cardiovascular system. According to recent research, women with anxiety are far more likely to show reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemia) during physical activity than women without anxiety.