Persistent Worrying and Fear

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is described as the persistent worrying or feeling of fear. Temporary worry or fear can be normal, especially during or after a stressful life event. But anxiety conditions are their own category and involve more than short-term worrying.

Anxiety conditions fall under the umbrella of mental health disorders and can present in various ways. On its own, anxiety is often a symptom of other mental health conditions, such as addiction or substance-use disorders, borderline personality disorder and many more.

Like anything else, everyone has different triggers in anxiety conditions. The most common causes include:

  • Childhood trauma or neglect
  • Substance use
  • Emotional, physical and sexual abuse
  • Constant stress
  • Stressful life event or change
  • Personality traits
  • Other mental health disorder

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder usually has to do with worrying about everyday issues, like finances, health, work, family and the fear of losing control. It revolves around things that are dealt with daily, but to an extreme degree. A person with generalized anxiety disorder may excessively worry about these things day to day.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is classified as sudden, recurring panic attacks, even when in a safe situation or environment. A person with panic disorder may regularly experiences overwhelming feelings of fear, which causes a physical response. After an episode, the person might get upset about having another one, which reinforces a cycle of intense emotion and eventually affects daily life.

A person may develop panic disorder after experiencing something very sudden and stressful, such as death, illness or abuse. Uncontrollable and unexpected panic attacks may also be a symptom of other medical conditions.


A phobia is described as the intense fear of something that poses little or no danger. There are all kinds of phobias, including spiders, heights and social situations. Someone with a phobia may experience physical symptoms of distress, even without being directly exposed to the trigger.

Some common phobias include:

  • Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
  • Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
  • Mysophobia – fear of germs and dirt
  • Agoraphobia – fear of certain spaces and areas

Separation Anxiety Disorder

One of the most common anxiety disorders in children, separation anxiety is the intense fear of being separated from an attachment figure (typically parents or caregivers). Not to be confused with normal childhood clinginess, separation anxiety disorder usually presents itself in children by not being able to focus on anything other than separation. They may become overwhelmed by the feeling and suffer from nightmares and have a hard time doing anything on their own, like going to school or participating in activities outside of school.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that prevents a person from speaking in certain situations, typically in social settings. It’s common in children who feel anxious around strangers, classmates, or adult family members they don’t see often. If left untreated, selective mutism may persist into adulthood and have numerous negative effects.

What Anxiety May Look Like

Symptoms of anxiety disorders may vary from person to person, depending on their triggers and personal factors. Here are some of the most common:

  • Feeling nervous
  • Restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing or intrusive thoughts
  • Feelings of dread
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability

Occasional anxiety symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of anxiety attacks. A panic attack usually occurs from a buildup of intense anxiety with a sudden onset. People with anxiety disorders often describe panic episodes as feeling like they can’t breathe or they’re choking while only being able to focus on what’s worrying them.

Diagnosing specific anxiety disorders may require psychological and physical evaluation to ensure symptoms are not due to an underlying health issue.



Therapy can be a helpful tool in diagnosing and treating many mental health conditions. Not all therapeutic approaches are the same. Depending on a person’s diagnosis and personal needs, the following may be used:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors caused by psychological distress
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Encourages changing negative thoughts and behaviors and focusing on self-acceptance
  • Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders
  • Schema therapy – Combines elements of effective therapies and focuses on transforming negative thought or behavior patterns (schemas/beliefs) into more adaptive or functional beliefs that benefit the individual
  • Exposure therapy or systematic desensitization – Talk therapy that gradually exposes a person to their trigger in a safe environment, which helps to desensitize them and reduce their anxiety or fears


For some, a proper treatment plan may require taking medication. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are both commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Side effects of anti-anxiety medication may vary, and finding the right one may take some trial and error.

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing healthy habits can be the first step toward a more fulfilling life experience for anyone. Although it may require discipline, there are easy, risk-free ways to lessen mental stress and emotional reactivity. Try creating and sticking to a daily routine, staying organized, minimizing excess stimuli when you need to focus, and keeping your body active when possible.

Eating nutritious foods, practicing deep breathing techniques, exercising and learning your triggers and reactions can tremendously help cope with feelings of anxiety.

Support Groups

There are many different kinds of support groups, and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders.

Being able to connect with others over a shared behavior or issue can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, a person will learn healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to alleviate the intensity or frequency of their anxious symptoms.