What You Need To Know To Help Manage Anxiety

Research shows many people are anxious about safety, health, and money problems.

Black adult woman looking stressed and tired

Updated on March 6, 2024.

Everyone experiences occasional stress when they have to do something new, important, or challenging. That stress can actually help people get things done and meet those challenges. But for those with an anxiety disorder, the worry and restlessness continue after the stressful situation is over. Anxiety symptoms may get worse over time and can interfere with your life if you don’t address them.

“Anxiety is like the check engine light in your car,” says Roger Hollingsworth, LCSW, a therapist at Saint Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It says there’s something wrong. It may be based on false information, but it's your body’s way of trying to keep you safe. It’s important to at least look under the hood and determine why you’re experiencing it.”

Who’s at risk for anxiety?

“Anybody can develop clinical anxiety if they experience a trauma or have ongoing fears due to past events,” says Mark Hutchinson, LCMHC, also a therapist at Saint Mark’s Hospital.

However, some people are more prone to anxiety disorders, including women and those who:

  • Are widowed or divorced
  • Have financial stress or money problems
  • Had a traumatic experience in childhood

A close family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions also increases someone's risk of also developing an anxiety disorder.

More people experiencing anxiety

An American Psychiatric Association survey released in 2018 found that anxiety in the United States is increasing. Some 39 percent of those questioned reported an increase in anxiety in 2018 compared to the year before.

To reach their conclusions, researchers polled 1,000 adults, and based on their answers to 16 survey questions, measured overall anxiety on a 100-point scale. In 2018, the average American adult registered a 51; it's a five-point jump from 2017.

Survey results suggested an increase in anxiety among all races, ages and genders, but Millennials, people of color and women were among the most anxious. Respondents' biggest concerns were finances, safety and health.

What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

 “Anxiety symptoms include restlessness, having racing thoughts or physical symptoms like a rapid heart beat,” says Hutchinson. Other signs include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension or tension headaches
  • Irritability, tiredness, trouble concentrating

You may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if you worry excessively on most days of the week for six months or more, along with some or all of the symptoms above. But don’t wait six months to get help. Seek out support from a healthcare provider near you, or check with your local health department, which may offer counseling to match your budget.

Also, many colleges and universities offer free counseling from supervised graduate students who are pursuing psychology or social work degrees, says Hutchinson.

How anxiety disorders are treated

“Your general practitioner is a good place to begin,” says Hutchinson. He or she may recommend anti-anxiety medication and refer you to a talk therapist.

“Medication is often used to get symptoms under control, which allows talk therapy to help you more readily,” he explains. Medications could include:

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs: Don’t be discouraged if an antidepressant takes a few weeks to start working, or if you need to try different drugs before finding the best one. Tell your healthcare provider if you experience side effects or if your symptoms get worse when you start a new med.

Beta-blockers: These heart medications can also treat anxiety by controlling symptoms like blushing, sweating and shaking.

Along with medication, a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach you new ways to think about and react to stressful situations. “CBT is based on the idea that negative thoughts promote negative behavior. Your therapist can help you work through those stressful or inaccurate thoughts,” says Hollingsworth.

Tips for living with an anxiety disorder

There are some steps that anyone can take to bring down their anxiety level during a stressful situation. “They’re called T.I.P. skills,” says Hollingsworth. T.I.P. skills include three ways to reverse your fight-or-flight response, or the physical process that takes place when your body senses danger. These steps can trick you into feeling calm and remind you that you’re safe. T.I.P. stands for:

Temperature: When you’re stressed, blood rushes to the organs and muscles that could help you run away like your brain, eyes, ears and legs. That makes you sweat and causes your temperature to go up.

“If you start to panic at home, bring down your temperature by putting ice and water in a big bowl, then splashing or briefly submerging your face in it,” recommends Hollingsworth. “If you know you’re going to face a stressful situation away from home, plan ahead. Bring a frozen water bottle with you and hold it up to your neck or face.”

Intense Exercise: Five minutes of vigorous exercise can immediately lower your anxiety level. It reduces tension and causes the release of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins.

Paced breathing: Your breathing speeds up when you’re stressed to help bring more oxygen to your heart and brain. “Convince your body you’re safe by breathing in for six seconds and then exhaling for eight seconds,” he recommends. The “P” in T.I.P. can also stand for progressive muscle relaxation, which involves briefly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in your body.

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