Anxiety is a very common and real disorder that can arise if you are experiencing an overload of stress. Especially during this pandemic, your anxiety may be worse than it has ever been before. The blurb below will highlight how to recognize anxiety, recommended treatments for different types of anxiety, and popular coping methods.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
They aren’t one-size-fits all. Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, affects more than 6 million US adults. It’s characterized by symptoms that may include excessive worry, worst-case scenario fixations, indecisiveness, trouble focusing, and trouble sleeping.
OK I’ve experienced those, do I have an anxiety disorder?
Maybe. But worry and anxiety are often confused. Worry is pretty much an unavoidable part of being alive, while GAD should be treated. Worry is only one symptom of anxiety. A few more differences: worry is usually experienced in the head while anxiety is felt in the body. Worry is specific (e.g. nervous about catching the train) while anxiety is general (e.g. anxious about traveling). Worry often leads to problem solving while anxiety does not. Worry is temporary, anxiety is persistent. Worry doesn’t have a long-term effect on your life or wellbeing, while anxiety very much does.
GAD is only one of many anxiety disorders that should be identified and treated. Here are some others, their symptoms, and then ways to seek treatment.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)…This one is marked by frequent unwanted thoughts (aka obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (aka compulsions). OCD can take the form of hand washing, cleaning, or counting, all done in the hopes that obsessive thoughts go away. Spoiler: they don’t, unless the disorder is treated.
- Panic disorder…Marked by episodes of intense fear paired with physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness—all of which are called panic attacks.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)…This can develop after a terrifying event (including assaults, natural disasters, car accidents, military combat) in which physical harm occurred or was threatened. Symptoms may include distressing flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and avoiding certain places or people.
- Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder…This one is characterized by excessive self-consciousness and fear of being judged in everyday social situations. This can be limited to a particular type of situation, like public speaking, or can be so generalized that it makes it difficult for someone to ever be around other people.
While it’s helpful to know about different types of anxiety, you should not self-diagnose. WebMD rabbit holes are not your friend. Get treatment from a doctor who’s trained to help.
Which type of therapy is best for me?
You may gravitate towards a certain type of therapy based on your symptoms, or simply your preferences. Here are some of the most common types of treatments:
- Psychodynamic therapy…The one that looks in the rearview. This type of therapy focuses on digging into past events and behaviors to get to the root of current issues. It’s usually long-term, lasting from several months to several years.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy…The one that focuses on your thoughts. CBT is all about your current thought patterns and finding practical solutions to deal with them. It’s usually shorter term than psychodynamic therapy.
- Group therapy…The one with the built-in support system. One or more psychologists lead a group of around five to fifteen people, often focused on a specific issue like social anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
These therapies are all effective for treating anxiety and depression. Psychodynamic therapy can be more effective for long-term problems rooted in past behavior, like relationship issues, while CBT can be most effective for treating conditions like insomnia. Group therapy is useful for those looking for a lot of feedback and a community—it’s also usually cheaper.
DAILY COPING TACTICS
If you can’t afford to see a professional or want strategies for coping in-between sessions, there are tips and free resources out there to get started. Here are some of our favorites:
- 54321 Method…A mindfulness tool that grounds you in the present. First, identify five things you can see. Then, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This helps shift your attention to your surroundings and away from the intrusive thoughts in your head.
- 3×30 Plan…Exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes. This can mean walking, yoga, dancing, taking a virtual class. 30 minutes is one Friends episode. And exercise will be there for you (when the anxious rain starts to pour).
- Breathe…You’ve heard this one before. Our stress guide gives you some breathing and relaxation tactics for managing stress (which can be a trigger for anxiety).
- Schedule “worry time”…Take 15-30 minutes a day to identify what’s making you anxious and write it down. Because the first step is recognition and the second step may be starting a very sad handwritten book.