Chronic anxiety affects millions of Americans and millions more around the world. Chronic anxiety is a serious problem - anxiety makes it difficult to focus and find happiness in the world around you, leading to a less than high-quality life.
"Chronic" anxiety is more of an informal term to describe any type of anxiety that doesn't seem to go away and isn't prompted by events around you. This article will explore the idea behind chronic anxiety and delve deeper into what it means to live with this type of mental health problem.
Chronic Anxiety Disorders
When someone suffers from "chronic" anxiety, they're most often suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are diagnoses provided by mental health professionals that indicate the type of chronic anxiety you're suffering from. They include:
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Selective Mutism
- Specific Phobias
- Social Phobia
- Panic Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Unspecified Anxiety Disorder
It's also important to note that it's possible to suffer from anxiety that doesn't necessarily qualify for a diagnosis but may be worth addressing anyway because it impacts your quality of life.
Living With Chronic Anxiety
While the disorders differ, chronic anxiety is best described as anxiety that you experience most days without a clear and reasonable trigger. Someone that works in a dangerous part of town and has to walk home alone at night isn't experiencing chronic anxiety because it has a trigger (walking in a scary area). Someone that gets nervous every once in a while when they talk to strangers isn't experiencing chronic anxiety because it doesn't happen very often.
Chronic anxiety is more like an illness. It's something that weighs on your mind and thoughts often and doesn't require any obvious outside trigger. Those with chronic anxiety often experience both physical and mental symptoms such as:
- Mental: Excessive worries, such as worrying about someone getting hurt, worrying about social situations, worrying about worst case scenarios, or even worrying about their own anxiety.
- Physical: Shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, chest pains, leg weakness and tingling, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and more.
You may experience some or all of the above symptoms, depending on your personality and the type of anxiety you're suffering from. Those with generalized anxiety disorder are more prone to worrying thoughts. Those with panic disorder are more prone to physical symptoms. But there is a lot of overlap between all of these disorders.
Assessing Your Chronic Anxiety and Addressing the Symptoms
Chronic anxiety is generally not something that goes away on its own. Anxiety can change your brain. It alters thought patterns and makes you more prone to negative thinking, catastrophic thinking, over-sensitivity to health and physical sensations, and more. The longer you live with anxiety, the more anxiety may consume your thoughts.
That's why it's so hard to cure without some type of strategy and considerable commitment. You can't wish anxiety away, and those that depend on some type of "quick fix" are likely going to be sorely disappointed. You CAN effectively treat anxiety, but you need to make sure that you're at a point in your life where you're willing to make life changes to ensure your anxiety doesn't come back.
There are a lot of strategies people use to combat anxiety. The more common include:
- Therapy Therapy is, by far, one of the most effective ways to cure anxiety. It's can be expensive, and many people struggle to find a therapist they trust in their area, but it is worth trying to find a therapist you are comfortable working with that you can afford. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the gold standard treatment for anxiety with significant scientific research backing up its efficacy.
- Medications Anti-anxiety medications, on the other hand, are only partially beneficial and not highly recommended. This is not because anxiety drugs don't work. They work, but they don't lead to long term results. They simply quiet your anxiety temporarily. Many medications specifically formulated as anti-anxiety medications are highly addictive and have severe risks.
- Herbs There are several herbal medicines that may be used for anxiety as well. Kava, passionflower, and valerian root are the most popular. Of those three, only kava appears to have significant research in its favor. It carries some side effect risk, however, and like prescription medicines, it needs to be used in conjunction with other approaches.
- Exercise Exercise is valuable for your mental health, and has significant research to back up it’s positive effects on anxiety.
There are several "alternative" therapies and anxiety reduction techniques as well. Some work better than others, and some people find that they have more success with one than others will. For example, hypnosis has been known to work, but it tends to work poorly for those that don't believe in it.
For any treatment to work, it needs to be based on your symptoms, and it needs to involve proven strategies that will help you cope with anxiety over the remainder of your life - not simply dull it away and prevent you from learning to cope on your own.