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Adult Anxiety: How to Treat It

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/6/2022

Jitters on a first date? Totally normal. Stressed before a job interview? It happens. Everyone experiences a little anxiety now and then, but if you’re worried more often than not or fear chronic anxiousness is affecting your life satisfaction, you could be dealing with adult anxiety.

About 40 million adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder. A diagnosis could initially create more worry, but it’s the first step in getting treatment and managing your mental health.

Understanding the different psychiatric disorders and knowing what the most common anxiety symptoms are can help you find treatment faster. Let’s dive in.

What Are the Most Common Anxiety Disorders in Adults? 

Before you can treat adult anxiety, you need to know what type of anxiety you have. Though some anxiety disorders are more common among adults, it’s good to have a rough idea of all potential conditions.

While you should never self-diagnose — that’s what a mental health professional is for! — it can help to learn about the different anxiety disorders in adults. That way, you can be on the lookout for signs you may be facing one.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Though it tends to start in the early teen years, social anxiety disorder often extends into adulthood. In fact, it affects about 15 million adults in the United States. 

Sometimes called social phobia, the condition involves anxiousness in social settings or a fear that others are judging you or paying close attention to what you do. This could be anything from speaking in public to going to a party.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Nearly 4 percent of adults in the United States are affected by PTSD, and women are five times more likely than men to deal with this anxiety disorder.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says it can happen after going through a traumatic event, like a sexual assault, a car accident or a natural disaster. When someone experiences long-term effects of trauma, it could result in PTSD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Affecting over 3 percent of adults in the U.S., generalized anxiety disorder is one of the more common types of adult anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder may be diagnosed when someone has difficulty managing anxiety over the course of six months or longer.

Panic Disorder (PD)

Women in the United States are twice as likely to be affected by panic disorder than men. Across both genders, about 3 percent of adults deal with PD. 

This disorder is often characterized by panic attacks, which can come on suddenly. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, heart palpitations and feelings of dread. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

Slightly less common than the anxiety disorders mentioned above, obsessive-compulsive disorder affects just over 1 percent of adults in the United States.

The markers of OCD include recurrent thoughts and compulsive behaviors. For example, repeated hand-washing or checking to make sure you turned off the coffee maker over and over.

To figure out which of these anxiety disorders you have (if any), a mental health professional with a background in diagnosing mental health and mood disorders will look closely at your anxiety symptoms.

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Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder in Adults

If you’re an adult with one of these disorders, you’ll likely experience a number of anxiety symptoms. Some may affect your mental health, while others may impact your physical health. The specific anxiety disorder you’re dealing with will determine the exact symptoms of anxiety disorder you may feel.

Adults with social phobia, for instance, may blush or sweat excessively in social situations, experience a pounding heart, have trouble making eye contact or feel extremely self-conscious. 

If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you may notice restlessness, fatigue and irritability, along with physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension.

Panic disorder involves some of the same anxiety symptoms as GAD (like uncontrollable feelings of worry). Trembling, panic attacks and feelings of doom are other things people with PD may feel. Also, the fear of having a panic attack can make you avoid daily responsibilities.

As for PTSD, adults with this anxiety disorder may have flashbacks of the trauma they lived through. They may also avoid situations that remind them of the experience.

Knowing what the symptoms of anxiety disorder look like and how they can affect your emotional and physical health can help you find the right treatment. 

The Connection Between Adolescent and Adult Anxiety

Experiencing anxiety as a child is not all that uncommon. In fact, anxiety in kids increased between 2016 and 2020, with almost 10 percent of children facing anxiousness.

Interestingly, having an anxiety disorder as a kid increases your risk of having depression or anxiety as an adult. Not only that, but negative childhood experiences or trauma (like the death of a parent or childhood sexual abuse) can lead to anxiety issues in adulthood. 

While childhood anxiety can be a predictor of adult anxiety, those who didn’t deal with adolescent anxiety can still develop the condition as an adult. 

How Is Adult Anxiety Diagnosed? 

If you think you’re struggling with excessive anxiety, a professional diagnosis is the first step in finding treatment. An anxiety disorder can be diagnosed by a doctor, a therapist or another type of mental health professional.

In any case, your provider will ask about your symptoms and may perform a physical exam. And they might do a blood test to check for other medical conditions that have similar symptoms as anxiety.

They’ll also ask if you’re on any medications, as the side effects of certain drugs can be similar to the symptoms of anxiety in adults.

Your healthcare provider may have you fill out a health questionnaire about your family history of anxiety or other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, depressive disorder or other mood disorders. And they might ask if you have any past trauma or dealt with a mental illness as a child.

The Best Treatments for Adult Anxiety

Treatment options depend on the condition you’re living with and your specific anxiety symptoms. But medication and talk therapy are often prescribed for many types of anxiety disorders.

Some people may only take medication or just do therapy for anxiety disorders, though many adults find that a combination of both to be most effective.

Talk Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

Talk therapy can be a very effective way to treat adult anxiety. One of the more common forms of therapy for anxiety is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on cognitive functioning.

With CBT, you’ll team up with a mental health professional to suss out behaviors and thought patterns contributing to your anxiety. Then you’ll work together to change those behaviors, a process sometimes referred to as cognitive restructuring.

Another type of therapy that may be recommended is exposure therapy. This treatment has been found to be particularly helpful with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. In exposure therapy, you’ll safely confront things that make you anxious.

There are other types of therapy too. To figure out which option will be most effective in treating your anxiety, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional.

Anti-Anxiety Medication 

Though anti-anxiety medications don’t cure anxiety, they can help reduce the impact of emotional and physical symptoms.

Common medications for anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine, beta blockers and benzodiazepines.

Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by a licensed healthcare professional. Hers offers online consultations, making it easy to find a provider who can assist with both medication and therapy.

But before taking a new medication, it’s important to disclose any medical conditions you have and other prescription drugs you’re on. That way, your healthcare provider can ensure the new medication won’t harm your physical health or make your anxiety symptoms worse. 

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Navigating Adult Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is one of the more common mental health conditions. There are a number of adult anxiety disorders, the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dealing with anxiety symptoms can really impact your daily life. Some people have trouble engaging in day-to-day activities and finding life satisfaction.

Before diagnosing you with an anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will look at your anxiety symptoms and how they impact your daily life and life satisfaction. They may also assess your physical health to rule out any other medical conditions.

Don’t be surprised if your provider asks if you have a history of mental illness or other psychiatric disorders, such as a past struggle with bipolar disorder or other mood disorders and depressive disorders like major depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or comorbid depression.

Thankfully, these mental health conditions can be treated to lessen their impact on your emotional and physical well-being.

Therapy for anxiety disorders in adults has been found to be very helpful, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy. Medication is another common way to address anxiety symptoms.

If you’re dealing with severe symptoms of excessive anxiety, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with a healthcare professional. They’ll talk to you about the various symptoms of anxiety disorders and determine if you have generalized anxiety disorder or another common anxiety disorder in adults.

They’ll also discuss treatment options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders and potential medications. Get started with a personalized treatment plan with Hers today.

13 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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  3. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder
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  9. Kascakova, N., Furstova, J., Hasto, J., et al., (2020). The Unholy Trinity: Childhood Trauma, Adulthood Anxiety, and Long-Term Pain. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7013389/
  10. Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders. NYU Langone Health. Retrieved from https://nyulangone.org/conditions/anxiety-disorders/diagnosis#
  11. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  12. What is exposure behavior? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy
  13. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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