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Anxiety

Anxiety can be a healthy response to life's challenges, but constant and unresolved anxiety is unhealthy and can lead to other problems. This page presents information about what anxiety is, how to recognize when anxiety has become a problem, and how to successfully manage anxiety. Anxiety can be described as motivation, excitement, tension, anticipation, stress, worry, nerves, and phobias. Anxiety can be a normal reaction to new and positive challenges or to stressful events. But, anxiety can also be the result of distorted thinking and other controllable causes; if not controlled, anxiety can become problematic and interfere with your health and wellness.

Here are some signs that worry might be problematic in your life:

  • You are chronically on alert and thinking about potential future dangers or threats
  • You are consistently making negative predictions about the future
  • You tend to overestimate the likelihood that something bad will happen
  • You repeat worried thoughts over and over again in your head

How do you know if you have Anxiety? When should you consider getting help from a health care professional? If you're concerned about experiences you've been having, consider taking the self-assessment for Anxiety. It's anonymous, and provides results, recommendations for next steps including self-help materials, and other resources.

For more questions or answers about anxiety, please visit the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and answers about anxiety

Q1:

What is the difference between worry and anxiety?

A:

Worry is the thinking part of anxiety in which a person regularly predicts the occurrence of negative or catastrophic events in his life or in the life of loved ones. Worried thinking often leads to  anxiety’s physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, restlessness and disrupted sleep, to name a few.

Q2:

How can I tell if my anxiety is normal?

A:

Experiencing some degree of anxiety in life is normal. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it is overwhelming and causes significant change to your lifestyle or relationships. An anxiety disorder can keep a person from coping with life’s ups and downs and make a person feel anxious most of the time, sometimes without any identifiable cause.

Q3:

What is an anxiety disorder?

A:

Anxious feelings may be so uncomfortable that an individual will do anything to avoid them, including stopping or changing everyday activities.  Anxiety becomes an “anxiety disorder” when it significantly interferes with common daily activities.  For example, severe anxiety can prevent a person from going to work or engaging in meaningful activities with friends and family. The body will also react to anxiety that lacks an actual “cause.”  For example, during a panic attack, a person might experience one or more physical symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, numbness, tingling, stiff muscles, and breathlessness in response to an imagined threat.  Even though there is no actual threat, the body’s reactions are interpreted as life-threatening, even though they are not dangerous.

Q4:

What are my treatment options?

A:

There are many strategies and techniques that can be used to help cope with worry and anxiety. Some involve strategies to help reduce physical symptoms of anxiety directly through methods like muscle relaxation, imagery, or breathing exercises.  Other strategies are designed to teach worriers to change catastrophic thinking so that imagining worse case scenarios and predictions of disaster are either reduced or aren’t taken seriously.  Treatment strategies used by professional health care providers usually address both problems.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on how thoughts and feelings influence behavior.  CBT teaches individuals to recognize when their thoughts are unrealistic and contribute to anxiety. The therapist works with the client to change irrational thoughts and beliefs to more realistic thoughts and to determine what behaviors are the result of the unrealistic thoughts.  Positive changes in thoughts and behaviors are likely to result in reduced anxiety.

Exposure therapy is a treatment in which a therapist works with a client to seek out, under controlled conditions, anxiety producing situations that the client finds frightening. By doing so, individuals learn that neither the feared situation nor the physical symptoms that can occur are dangerous and that other catastrophic thoughts are not accurate.  With practice, the fear of situations or physical symptoms gradually evaporates over time.

Medication

There are a number of medications available that are sometimes used for treating anxiety. These medications change how brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are produced or used.  How effective a medication will be for any one person depends on factors such as body type, drug sensitivity and side effects. Research indicates that medications for anxiety, especially for panic disorder, are more beneficial when they are combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Last Updated: May 23, 2022

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