If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, it’s no surprise that anxiety has become a prevalent issue affecting millions of people.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 19.1% of the adult population (40 million individuals).1
In this article, we share causes of anxiety, how it manifests, its surprising benefits, and some practical strategies to help you manage it.
What is anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as, “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”2
As humans, we demand a lot from our brains – to maintain bodily function, make significant life decisions, process information, and alert us to danger. Genetics, environment, and life’s circumstances combine to determine vulnerability to anxiety and may contribute to the activation of anxiety symptoms under pressure.3
Anxiety responses, sometimes described as “fight-or-flight,” are your body’s way of preparing for potential danger. A fight-or-flight response can feel extreme if your stress level accumulates over time, even if the anxiety trigger is minor. Anxiety can significantly impact your daily life and overall well-being if it becomes chronic or disproportionate to the situation.4
Anxiety disorders include5:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry and anxiety about various aspects of life, such as work, relationships, health, and everyday situations
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – characterized by a range of symptoms that persist for an extended period after a traumatic event or ongoing trauma (e.g., avoidance, intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal)
- Social anxiety – characterized by intense fear and anxiety in social situations, involving significant concern about being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated by others
- Panic disorder – characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, or intense episodes of fear or discomfort
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – characterized by intrusive thoughts that are recurring (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that individuals feel driven to perform
- Specific phobias – characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of specific objects, situations, or activities
Anxiety can stem from various factors6:
- brain chemistry
- personality traits
- life experiences, such as traumatic events, chronic stress, significant life changes, and certain medical conditions
Anxiety is not a sign of weakness but rather a condition or mental state you can manage with the right approach.
Anxiety can manifest in various ways. These include:
- excessive worry or preoccupation
- irritability, anger, or rage
- physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shakiness, and shortness of breath
- fear that the “worst case scenario” may occur
Regardless of how anxiety appears, remember that it doesn’t define you. Also, since anxiety typically has a source, you can reduce your symptoms by addressing the source.
Anxiety and Anger: Are they Related?
Have you ever noticed that anxious thoughts can make you angry? Interestingly, anger often feels like a remedy for anxiety. While it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from anxiety, anger is persistent and can mask your fear.7
Engaging with anger may help the constant worry of fear feel like it’s going away—making it feel like a remedy for anxiety.
It will help if you use anger as a tool to relieve your anxiety. You may feel that you’re helpless with a loss or that you lack the power or ability to alter a situation or trauma. But anger can show up protectively to help you regain control and push away anxiousness. It’s a challenging process to sort through anxious feelings and make the connection to anger. Still, an increased understanding of their connectedness can help reduce the impact of your anxiety.
Potential Benefits of Anxiety
Believe it or not, there are a few positive things about anxiety.
Humans need to feel alarmed or alerted to potential environmental risks. If you are never worried or fearful, it could mean that you lack awareness and, as a result, survival skills.
Also, anxiety-prone individuals are generally sensitive, empathetic, and more attuned to their emotions.8 In athletic or academic performances, an “ideal” or “optimum” level of anxiety can be crucial to peak performance, as the individual is alert and ready to act.
Strategies for Managing Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms and worry can decrease over time and with practice.
When addressing anxiety, one goal may be to reduce the impact anxiety has on your daily life with self-help methods or therapy.
Another goal may be to develop coping skills to reduce the effect of situational anxiety or panic. This can involve various breathing exercises, distractions, or seeking support from someone you trust.
Here are some great strategies to help you manage anxiety:
- Seek professional help – If anxiety interferes with your daily life, consider contacting a mental health professional. They can provide an accurate diagnosis, offer guidance, and develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your needs. Your doctor may recommend therapy, medication, or a combination of both, based on the severity of your anxiety.
- Practice relaxation techniques – Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine to help calm your mind and body. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga can reduce anxiety symptoms and promote a sense of calm.
- Challenge negative thoughts – Anxiety often feeds on negative thinking patterns. Learn to identify and challenge irrational or negative thoughts contributing to your anxiety. Replace them with positive and realistic affirmations to reframe your mindset.
- Establish a support system – Surround yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals who can offer comfort and encouragement. Talking about your feelings with trusted friends or family can alleviate anxiety and provide a fresh perspective.
- Prioritize self-care – Engage in activities that promote self-care and reduce stress. Physical exercise, a nutrient-dense diet, quality sleep, and activities you enjoy are essential for maintaining a healthy mind and body. Taking care of your physical health can positively impact your mental well-being.
- Manage stress – Identify and address the sources of stress in your life. Set realistic goals and ask for help when needed. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can help reduce overwhelming feelings.
- Practice mindfulness – Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine to stay present and grounded. This could be mindful walking, journaling, or simply observing your surroundings. Mindfulness practice allows you to focus on the present moment and reduce anxiety associated with worrying about the past or future.
Cognitive Behavioral Techniques: Reframing Negative Thoughts
The idea of reeframing thoughts comes from various therapy techniques (particularly a treatment modality like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT).9 People prone to anxiety struggle to see options outside their automatic negative thoughts.
To reframe an automatic negative thought, try this re-framing technique:
- Instead of “I’m going to fail at_______,” try “I have the thought that___________” [e.g., I didn’t prepare enough for this test, and I could get a lousy grade].”
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress or perceived threats.
Anxiety may feel overwhelming but remember you can manage and overcome it. By seeking support, incorporating healthy coping strategies, and prioritizing self-care, you can reduce anxiety’s impact on your life. You can embrace the journey toward inner peace one step at a time.
To lead a fulfilling life, remember these two things:
- You are not alone.
- You can manage anxiety effectively.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Facts & statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Published 2021. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
- American Psychological Association. Anxiety. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/. Published 2021.
- Willard, C. (n.d.). Mindfulness for teen anxiety: A workbook for overcoming anxiety at home, school, and everywhere else.
- Mental Health Foundation. Anxiety. www.mentalhealth.org.uk. Published February 21, 2022. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/anxiety
- Parekh R. What Are Anxiety Disorders? Psychiatry.org. Published 2017. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
- Mayo Clinic. Anxiety disorders – symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published May 4, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
- Is There a Link Between Anxiety and Anger? Psych Central. Published March 28, 2022. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/anxiety-and-anger#:~:text=When%20Anxiety%20Manifests%20in%20Anger&text=Anger%20and%20anxiety%20are%20two
- Hypersensitivity, Super Sensitive Nerves and Senses. AnxietyCentre.com. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-disorders/symptoms/hypersensitivity/#:~:text=Having%20a%20hyper%20reactive%20nervous
- American Psychological Association. What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral. Published July 2017.