Do you ever feel a sense of impending doom, which seems to just pop up out of nowhere? Are you finding it hard to breathe, and your pulse races even though you're sitting still? You’re not alone, and it could be anxiety.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America¹, anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million US adults. There are many types of anxiety which all share similar symptoms and can be effectively treated.
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The term anxiety refers to a group of mental disorders that can be characterized by a feeling of nervousness or unease. There are several types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
If you believe you have anxiety, it is recommended that you see a mental health professional (a psychiatrist or psychotherapist) for diagnosis. If you contact your doctor, they may also refer you to one of these specialists.
A panic attack is an episode where you feel overwhelming anxiety. It may include both emotional and physical symptoms. Typically, panic attacks only last up to about 30 minutes, but there have been reports of attacks that last for over an hour.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety are unique to the individual experiencing them. Not everyone with anxiety experiences the same symptoms. However, there are some general symptoms that most people with anxiety will experience, including stress, worry, fear, or restlessness.
Similarly, the symptoms of panic attacks vary, but common physical symptoms include:
After you have experienced an anxiety attack, you might want to avoid whatever triggered it so you do not experience any attacks in the future. However, this is not recommended. The more you ignore the source of your anxiety, the more you are likely to stress and worry about it.
Eventually, this fear may become paralyzing, making it impossible to focus on important tasks as you are instead focused on avoiding the triggering event, object, or feeling.
There can be exceptions. For instance, if certain triggers cause you to feel overwhelming anxiety, bring up traumatic memories, or make it difficult to function, it may be better for you to avoid them, at least in the short term until you are able to deal with them with professional help.
It is useful to work with a therapist to address your anxiety so that you can manage triggers when you encounter them in your everyday life.
If you generally shouldn’t avoid your anxiety triggers, how do you deal with them? There are multiple trigger management techniques. Their effectiveness varies depending on the type of anxiety you have and your personal circumstances, so try them out to see what works for you.
Imagine the worst-case scenario
Can you identify what is causing you anxiety? If so, take a moment to reflect on the worst possible thing that could happen.
For example, if an anxiety attack is triggered when your supervisor schedules a meeting with you and the company CEO, you might imagine you have been fired. If that were to happen, create a plan for how to deal with it: You have enough fuel in your car to get you home, there is food in the pantry, and you can file for unemployment and request extensions on your bills tonight.
Once you have imagined the worst possible scenario and created an action plan to improve it, start working on your action plan.
For instance, if you are worried about losing your job, ask your supervisor what you can improve on at work. At the same time, start buying some extra food each week and building up an emergency fund.
Practice mindful breathing
Mindful breathing can be an effective way to manage an anxiety attack and to help prevent attacks from occurring when you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed. There are several mindful breathing techniques, with one of the most popular being the box method:
Inhale for four seconds
Hold your breath for four seconds
Exhale for four seconds
Hold your breath for four seconds
Repeat until you feel calm
Schedule time to worry
Avoiding your anxiety triggers will only make them worse. The more you ignore them, the more prevalent they will be in your life. However, panicking every time your supervisor calls you into her office unexpectedly isn't ideal. Scheduling time to worry helps you take back control of your life.
You may find that you have fewer anxiety attacks if you schedule a time to sit down and think about your triggers. For example, you may sit down and journal about what you would do if you were fired after you have had a nice, relaxing dinner with your family.
By taking the time to think things through, you are reassuring your brain that you are aware of the problem and you don't need to be reminded in the middle of the workday.
Remember past difficulties
Remembering challenges you have overcome in the past can help you get through the anxiety attack you are currently experiencing.
If you have social anxiety and have been invited to a party where you only know the host, you may be tempted to stay home instead. However, if you remember the time you made a friend at a party during college, you may feel less anxious about going to your friend's party because you can remember how you overcame a challenge and turned it into a positive experience.
You may find it helpful to take pictures of yourself after you overcome difficult situations to refer back to when you need them. Seeing that you did something scary and everything turned out okay may inspire and empower you to do more things where you feel somewhat uncomfortable – if you did it before, you can do it again.
You may be able to manage your anxiety using the techniques outlined above. If that isn’t enough, it is recommended that you see a doctor.
Signs that you could benefit from seeing a doctor include:
You are struggling to control your anxiety on your own
Your anxiety is affecting your professional or personal relationships
You believe your anxiety could be caused by a physical medical condition
Your anxiety is not your only mental health concern
You are thinking about harming yourself
Anxiety is a mental disorder characterized by feelings of worry or unease. Anxiety comes with both psychological and physical symptoms. You may experience a panic attack, which are periods of intense anxiety that are usually over within 30 minutes.
It is best not to avoid the triggers of your anxiety and to instead work on dealing with them. There are many effective techniques to manage anxiety, including mindful breathing and imagining the worst-case scenario with an action plan to tackle it.
If you feel you need assistance with managing your anxiety, seek professional help from your doctor or mental health professional. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, or anxiety is negatively affecting your personal or professional life, seek urgent help.