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Everyone has bad days from time to time. From the tests we didn’t prepare for to the high-pressure presentations in the office, having occasional anxiety is a pretty universally shared experience. But what happens when that occasional anxious experience becomes a constant? What happens when it’s not isolated anxiety, but chronic anxiety?
When your anxiety becomes a chronic issue, a lot of problems can arise. Anxiety can take a toll on almost every element of your daily life, so it’s important to put a stop to it. Thankfully, there are ways to do that.
Coping with a mental disorder like anxiety is no easy task, and everyone’s coping journey is likely to be slightly different. But there are likely to be some constants for everyone. Whether your anxiety is due to your work, personal life or something else entirely, there are ways that can help you address it, control it and ultimately quiet it in your mind and body.
Curious what those coping techniques are? We’ll walk you through them. First, however, you need to understand some things about anxiety.
Think of anxiety this way: fear is when you’re running from a snake, but anxiety is knowing that there could be snakes around you that you just can’t see. In other words, your worries or fears are about the hypothetical or possible, not the real and apparent. Hypothetical fears like "Can anxiety kill you?"
Chronic anxiety disorder isn’t a disorder in its own right — it’s just a way of describing anxiety disorders as a group. All anxiety disorders — from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder to social anxiety disorder — are potentially chronic, if left untreated.
What most people are actually talking about when they discuss anxiety is generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD.
You may get a diagnosis of GAD when you meet certain criteria, including when your anxiety:
Has been going on for at least six months
Is difficult to control
Causes fatigue, irritability, insomnia, or restlessness
Makes it difficult to concentrate or impairs your work and social lives
Has no obvious physical cause
Anxiety disorders, like other mental health disorders, can be extreme or mild, and they can fluctuate in both symptoms and severity. The important thing is whether your anxiety has a pattern, and whether that pattern reduces your quality of life. If it does, you might have a chronic disorder.
For many people with anxiety disorder, their symptoms will become chronic. And although different anxiety disorders have different symptoms, a few common symptoms of anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder include:
Sleep disturbances and insomnia
Feeling on edge
More severe physical symptoms may include panic attacks (associated with panic disorder) and heart palpitations. Remember, the key point is that you’ll feel some (or maybe all) of these symptoms at regular intervals. In the case of generalized anxiety disorder, that means for about six months. And they must be significant enough that they affect your ability to function and take joy in life on a daily basis.
Although some people may have anxiety without an underlying cause, there are some factors that can raise your risk for anxiety disorders, including a traumatic event in your past, chronic issues with medical conditions, and more. You can read about these and other risk factors in our guide to anxiety disorders.
Sound familiar? Feeling seen? You may have an anxiety disorder. Now, let’s talk about how to deal with it.
Coping with chronic anxiety can mean a lot of things. If your anxiety is mild, a few simple changes might reduce your symptoms. If your struggles are more significant, you may be better served by exploring more substantial life changes and a treatment plan with a professional.
For the most part, however, everyone can benefit from a few general principles of anxiety management, which we’ve collected below:
Reducing stress at home or in the office isn’t always easy, but taking steps to corral those sources of stress can play a major, beneficial role in your overall mental health. It can also definitely reduce the severity and frequency of anxiety if your stress has been making your anxiety symptoms worse.
If you’re a heavy coffee or soda drinker, it may be time to cut back. Caffeine (and other substances, for that matter) can exacerbate anxiety disorders. Maybe try decaf for a few weeks, and see if it helps.
Sure, meditation has been proven as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, but good-for-your-whole-body physical health practices like exercise can have a profound impact on your mental health.
There are many types of therapy that can benefit your mental health, but cognitive behavioral therapy is a fantastic treatment and tool for people with anxiety. This form of therapy helps people with a variety of mental health conditions learn to address their intrusive thoughts and unhealthy (anxious) patterns of thought by learning to reject them.
If your anxiety is seriously affecting your quality of life, you may want to consider medication for some extra support. Medications like antidepressants are an efficient treatment, as many of these are proven safe and effective for treating psychological disorders.
Even the ones not specifically approved for treatment of anxiety disorders can be used in an off-label capacity to reduce the symptoms of anxiety by helping you to address imbalances of certain neurotransmitters. If you’re interested, this is a good time to talk to a healthcare professional.
There is more than one form of anxiety disorder, and whether you have separation anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or are just dealing with mild feelings of anxiety, treatment options are available.
If you suspect that you have a chronic anxiety disorder, the first thing you should do is take a deep breath. The reality is that a surprisingly high number of adults and children worldwide have anxiety, and the even better news is that it’s an entirely treatable condition. No, you may never “cure” yourself of anxiety, but with the right tools you can do more than control it: you can master it.
Failing to master your levels of anxiety before they get out of control can lead to serious issues down the line. Anxiety can lead to more serious symptoms like chest pain, and can even increase your risk of depressive disorders like major depression.
The first step in mastering your chronic anxiety is a surprisingly easy one: finding help. Help can mean anything from a psychiatrist or general practitioner to a therapist or counselor — any mental health professional can help you start your anxiety treatment journey.
If you’re ready to find the person who will help you get excessive anxiety under control, we can help. You can match with countless mental health professionals on our convenient online therapy platform, and you can also check out our mental health resources to learn more and talk to someone about medication.
If you’re ready to make feeling better a chronic condition, talk to someone today.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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