What Is Anxiety And How Can You Manage It?

Teodora Ghiur on Nov 01, 2021 in Mood and Feelings

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that manifests in a general feeling of unease, worry, and fear. Its symptoms can vary in intensity, from mild anxiety that can be controlled, to intense feelings of fear which affect one’s daily functioning and quality of life. While mild feelings of anxiety in stressful situations like exams, presentations and various life changes can be normal, intense anxiety can greatly impair mental wellbeing and is usually diagnosed as various forms of anxiety disorders.

Anxiety can be diagnosed as a standalone disorder, but it can also be a side symptom of other mental health issues, such as panic disorder, various phobias, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or social anxiety disorder (social phobia).

What Causes Anxiety?

Although the exact causes of anxiety are not entirely understood yet, medical professionals believe it stems from a complex interplay of factors such as environment, unprocessed traumas, personality types, biology and genetics. Research claims that the overactivation of certain parts of the brain involved in emotions and behavior (such as the amygdala) also contribute to feelings of anxiety. Similarly, a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters like serotonin and noradrenaline which regulate mood can also lead to uncontrollable fear and worry.

Besides these physical components, studies show that those who have a family history of diagnosed anxiety are five times more likely to struggle with this condition. Childhood traumas or stressful events during upbringing such as domestic violence, child abuse and bullying seriously increase the chances of someone experiencing anxiety in their adulthood.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety feels like constant restlessness and being on the edge. Those struggling with this condition can feel as though their safety is constantly under threat, as if chased by a lion. Even when there is no apparent danger, anxiety can create feelings of intense fear which have both psychological and physical (somatic) components. These include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Intense fear and worry
  • Sweaty palms
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired sleep
  • An impending sense of danger even in safe situations

Individuals struggling with anxiety feel that no matter how much they’re trying to control their fear, this is still unmanageable and irrational.

What Do You Do If You Think You Have Anxiety?

If you think you might suffer from an anxiety disorder, the best thing you can do is ask for specialist support. You might benefit from a short or long course of psychotherapy or counselling sessions. If you get in touch with your general practitioner, they might also prescribe you medication to help relieve distressing symptoms.

Getting in touch with a mental health professional is the safest thing to do when you think you might suffer from anxiety. It is best to avoid diagnosing yourself or following advice from unspecialized sources, as these might worsen your mental health symptoms. However, keep in mind that you can also try self-care practices that can soothe temporary distress. Some examples of beneficial practices in anxiety disorders are:

  • Taking time off to wind down at the end of your working day
  • Exercising - any form of physical movement can be beneficial;
  • Breathing exercises such as the diaphragmatic breathing method;
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member.

How Can You Deal With Anxiety?

It is important to keep in mind that some anxiety symptoms will not go away forever, even if you receive psychological support. As stated earlier, a mild form of anxiety in particularly stressful situations is normal as long as it does not interfere with your usual functioning. Therefore, the best thing you can do is learn coping mechanisms and strategies that better equip you to deal with anxious thoughts.

For example, you can learn CBT-based strategies such as “cognitive restructuring” or “desensitization” that aim to make anxious thoughts appear less powerful. You can also learn to identify the triggers of your anxiety by observing and monitoring your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. You can do this by keeping track of certain events, moments of the day or people that make you feel particularly worried. Make a habit of asking yourself: “Is there a particular person or circumstance in my life that my brain perceives to be a threat”?

How Can You Calm Anxiety?

Some strategies that help calm anxious thoughts involve:

  1. Connecting with the environment around you - this removes focus from your anxiety-inducing thoughts and helps you ground in the present moment. You can also identify some things you can touch, smell, or see to help yourself feel more centered and secure.
  2. Paying attention to your breath. This regulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight and flight response during anxiety attacks.
  3. Naming the emotion - Research shows that doing this reduces its intensity while increasing self-autonomy and the sense of being in control.

How Can Therapy Help with Anxiety?

A therapist can help you identify the causes of your anxiety, as well as design an intervention plan to reduce it. For example, some people are anxious because of a toxic job or relationship but might not realize its impact until their anxiety becomes unbearable.

Besides helping you recognize the root causes of your anxiety, a therapy can also provide psychoeducation on how your brain works, on the cycle of anxious thoughts and some methods in which you can take control of your emotions.

Ultimately, the aim of therapy is to empower you to move from being the victim of your undesirable emotions to living life to your full potential.

How do I help a Significant Other/Friend/Loved One with Their Anxiety?

Seeing someone you love being grabbed by anxious thoughts can be incredibly painful. While you cannot take all their anxious thoughts away from them, you can let them know that you are there for them to offer support and guidance. You can also accompany them in their leisure activities or help them distract from thoughts which make them more worried.

However, please keep in mind that you are not a trained mental health professional and you cannot treat your loved one’s anxiety, you can only support them during their difficult moments.

Case Studies About Anxiety

Emma is an outstanding student who always achieves great grades in her university classes. Besides, she just started her own business which places tremendous pressure on her. After only two months of being in the business, Emma has started experiencing serious anxiety followed by panic attacks and insomnia. She feels constantly on the edge and has difficulties relaxing. Her personal relationships are also suffering, as she is less able to go out or stay in touch with loved ones. Seeing the detrimental effects of anxiety has determined Emma to seek counselling and she is now working with a mental health professional to take back control of her life. After two months of being in therapy, she is already seeing great progress and has now gone back to her old routine.


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders people are diagnosed with these days. This can manifest in ongoing feelings of worry and panic, as well as in physical symptoms like headaches, heart palpitations and dizziness. Anxiety can be managed with adequate psychological support, self-care practices and, in more severe cases, medication. While anxiety can feel overwhelming, it is definitely a treatable disorder and there are multiple ways in which individuals can reduce its impact on their daily functioning. 

If you are looking to treat anxiety, you can look for someone in your area who can provide counseling services. You can simply find someone in your local area through TherapyDen.com by entering your zip code at the top of this website. Once you find a counselor, you can have an initial consultation with them and see whether they are a match for your needs. Since different counselors specialize in different mental health issues, you might want to speak with someone whose expertise matches your mental health needs.

Teodora Ghiur
Staff Writer for TherapyDen

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