Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/22/2021
For many of us, anxiety is a feeling that's all too familiar. This state of mind rears its head when it's time to take that big exam or give that important presentation. It may even pop up at the thought of having to speak with a stranger or when outstanding bills pile up.
One-off cases of anxiety are usually nothing to worry about, and in some new cases may even be a helpful reaction for your body to experience in threatening situations. However, when the clammy hands, faster heart rate, shortness of breath and other anxiety symptoms extend for a period of time, this could spell something more serious.
You could be dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder or a specific type of anxiety — all of which can be helped. There are ways to seek help so you don’t have to wonder how long your anxiety will last.
Below, you’ll find answers to common questions about anxiety along with possible treatment methods to help you get it under control.
Anxiety is how your body responds to threats in your environment, pressure or other stressful situations. As mentioned above, this response is often helpful as a way to prepare you mentally and physically for threatening or challenging situations.
Anxiety can be your body’s way of getting you set for the unexpected — or anything that might possibly cause you harm or distress.
In moderation, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused. However, when you are constantly disturbed by heart palpitations, chest pain, hot flashes, light-headedness, sweats or tingling in your limbs — and/or when your worries begin to interfere with your everyday life — you could be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders go beyond the fleeting feelings of worry or fear that accompany stressful situations. In fact, nearly one in five American adults are affected by some form of anxiety disorder on a yearly basis.
To receive an anxiety disorder diagnosis, a person must experience persistent feelings of worry and anxiety for about six months or more. And during this time period, your anxiety typically interferes with carrying out your job, going to school or otherwise performing routine, everyday tasks.
Anxiety disorders can be disorienting and scary, and not just because of the physical symptoms that manifest when you start to worry. These disorders may also raise your risk of developing medical problems like depression, heart disease, diabetes and substance abuse difficulties.
However, before you conclude that you are dealing with an anxiety disorder the next time you experience feelings of worry and fear, it’s important to first distinguish between certain forms of anxiety.
If you’ve ever found yourself overcome by a sudden yet intense feeling of fear, you may have chalked it up to your anxiety reaching new heights.
But while this may be true, there is a chance that what you experienced is in fact a panic attack.
Panic attacks are typically abrupt feelings of fear that occur without warning. To help you identify this condition, a panic attack will most likely reach its peak within a few minutes.
In some cases, panic attacks can happen several times a day, or they may be a rare occurrence showing up only a few times a year.
Whatever their frequency, panic attacks are indicative of a panic disorder and may include common anxiety symptoms like sweating, dizziness and trembling.
A panic disorder may also feature serious reactions such as thoughts that people and objects around you are unreal, feeling detached from yourself and a strong fear of going crazy or dying.
Panic is a kind of anxiety disorder. However, severe anxiety does not always have the symptoms that are present when experiencing a panic attack. Similar to panic disorders, other conditions that revolve around fear and worry may also be classified as an anxiety disorder.
While anxiety may be caused by a threatening or tasking situation, anxiety disorders are not so easily explained.
While an exact cause of these disorders is unknown, genetics, brain chemistry, stress and the environment may be responsible for the appearance of anxiety disorders.
These disorders may come in different forms which include:
If you live with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you may find yourself worrying excessively over everything — from work and school to your health and everyday interactions like traffic on your daily commute.
Typically, a person will have experienced this excessive worry most days over a period of six months.
Generalized anxiety disorder makes it so that simple interactions with peers and loved ones, carrying out tasks at work or even just going about your day become hurdles to overcome.
Phobias may present themselves in different ways such as a fear of heights, alarm when in proximity to certain animals, an aversion to water or even a fear of being left alone.
When faced directly with these conditions, people with phobias usually feel intense fear or anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder manifests as an intense and lasting fear of being judged or negatively evaluated by others in social situations.
A person living with SAD may experience it at work with colleagues he believes think little of his abilities or personality. It can also rear its head at school with peers and teachers alike, or in other relatively harmless social situations such as during interactions at a train station.
It’s normal to feel some worry at the thought of leaving a person dear to you. But when the belief that they may face harm or danger when they are separated from you tends to consume your thoughts, you could be living with separation anxiety.
This disorder may cause nightmares about being separated from a person you’re attached to, and may even cause you to avoid being separated from them.
Separation anxiety disorder may also cause physical symptoms when parting with an attachment figure occurs or is imminent.
Severe anxiety can be particularly harmful, not just because of the physical symptoms it may produce, but for how strongly an anxiety disorder may disrupt normal, everyday living.
To help with managing this condition, two methods are most trusted:
The right anxiety medication can help relieve some of the ‘worrying’ symptoms linked with anxiety disorders.
Options such as anti-anxiety medication may help reduce feelings of extreme worry or fear. Likewise, antidepressants could help with manipulating how the brain manages stress or different moods.
Beta-blockers are another popular treatment option, and while they are typically used for improving high blood pressure, this type of medication could also relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Using anxiety therapy that is directly tailored toward the source of fear and worry could help with managing anxiety disorders.
In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy may be effective at teaching positive ways of handling and reacting to fear or anxiety-inducing situations. This therapy can help with identifying and reducing thoughts that only appear to compound the effects of an anxiety disorder.
A person living with an anxiety disorder may also benefit from sharing their anxiety challenges and triumphs with others similarly affected in a support group. These groups may also offer useful pointers to members about certain anxiety-management strategies that worked for other members.
If you’re set to talk through your anxiety, these individual therapy and anonymous support group sessions can provide convenient online access to treatment from the comfort of your home.
Anxiety can be a lot to deal with — from the trembling and shakes, to the rude interruption of your daily life.
While occasional anxiety may last up until the moment the source of stress is removed, anxiety disorder symptoms are usually noticed for about six months or more.
Yet you don’t have to suffer. Even learning new skills like meditation and relaxation techniques can help.
To get a handle on your anxiety so you can reclaim a sense of calm and normalcy in your life, medications such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and beta-blockers can help save the day.
Likewise, speaking with a mental health professional or joining a support group of people experiencing similar challenges can provide helpful perspectives on overcoming an anxiety disorder.
For the best options or the right combination of treatments to manage anxiety, it’s important to first seek the opinion of a trusted healthcare professional.