When anxiety plagues your life, it’s perfectly normal to want to shut it out and ignore it completely. Just lock the door, and hope it goes away.
But this approach isn’t recommended by most. In fact, the general consensus towards anxiety tends to be to do something about it. “Go see a therapist” and “go to the doctor’s” aren’t unusual pieces of advice given to those suffering from anxiety.
But is seeking help really necessary? Or is it possible for anxiety to go away on its own, without the need for action?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal emotional state. If you ask anyone around you whether they get anxious, the answer will be a resounding “yes.” It’s a natural bodily process in response to stressful situations. Anxiety alerts you of danger, so it has been an integral survival mechanism throughout human history.
Once the fearful situation, person, or object goes away, your body should return to a homeostatic, relaxed state. The problem comes when anxiety sticks around long after the threat has gone. In that case, you could be dealing with an anxiety disorder, not plain old anxiety. So, what is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety or Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is a chronic state of fear. It differs from anxiety in its excessiveness; it just doesn’t seem to ease up or go away. Long-term stress is hugely debilitating and can lead to many health difficulties. Yet, anxiety disorders are highly prevalent within society, affecting roughly 30% of adults at one or more times throughout their lives.
Anxiety disorders often lead to avoidance. This could be of a particular situation or an object, depending on the type of anxiety disorder:
- Social Anxiety Disorder: excessive fear of humiliation, embarrassment, or rejection in social situations.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: a severe fear of daily tasks, such as chores, jobs, or family. Often partners with physical discomfort, including muscle pain, lack of concentration, and sleep difficulties.
- Specific Phobia: an exaggerated fear of a particular object, task, or situation. The individual often recognizes their fear as irrational, but the fear still persists.
- Panic Disorder: a constant physical and mental anxiety, usually taking the form of panic attacks.
- Agoraphobia: an intense fear of situations where the individual feels trapped. This could be in an open or confined location, like on the train or when in a crowd.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: excessive worry around separation from an attachment figure, such as a mother, father, or sibling.
Anxiety disorders, whichever type, tend to limit the sufferer’s life. So, should something be done about it, or does it simply go away on its own?
Does Anxiety Go Away on Its Own?
Anxiety typically goes away on its own once you’re no longer exposed to the threat. Anxiety disorders, however, tend to stick around. Ignoring an anxiety disorder can cause all sorts of damage and impinge on your quality of life.
If your anxiety disorder is beginning to take the driver’s seat in your life, it’s time to take back control. And this doesn’t always mean seeking therapy or medication. However, research shows the effectiveness of these methods repeatedly. You can also integrate self-help activities into your daily life to combat your anxiety.
What Can You Do About Your Anxiety?
If you’re sure you want to “do it yourself,” self-help activities may be for you. However, if you’d prefer professional assistance, try talk therapy or medication.
The first port of call is to talk to someone you trust, such as a friend or close relative. But if this still seems too overwhelming for you, there are several things you can do by yourself to calm your anxiety.
Putting your physical health first can improve anxiety disorders. Try getting adequate sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in physical exercise.
Mindfulness has also been shown effective against anxiety disorders, as it improves the body’s ability to manage stress. It allows you to make an informed, conscious decision when you face your fear rather than an instinctual, unconscious one.
To improve your self-awareness, write in a journal. Journals can be used to jot down ideas of what has triggered a fear response, so you can begin to identify patterns in your anxious behavior.
Talk therapy involves 1-1 sessions with a trained mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor. Sessions typically occur once weekly but can be more or less often depending on the severity of your anxiety disorder.
Although talk therapy encompasses a broad range of approaches, the two most effective for treating anxiety disorders are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
CBT is highly effective at combating anxiety disorders. It’s a short-term, solution-focused approach based on the premise that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interlinked. CBT involves coming face-to-face with your fears and challenging your ideas about the fearful object or situation.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Although similar to CBT in ways, DBT is solely behavior-focused. DBT will provide coping strategies and different ways of thinking to help you overcome your fears and usually involves both 1-1 and group therapy sessions.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy has been shown to improve emotion regulation.
Medication is often used in conjunction with therapy to treat anxiety disorders. The purpose of medication is to help ease anxious symptoms, allowing positive change to occur in therapy.
Common medications given to treat those with an anxiety disorder include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants.
Unfortunately, medications typically lead to side effects, so they’re not the top choice for everyone.
Anxiety disorders limit your life. Facing an anxiety disorder head-on isn’t something anyone wants to do, but unfortunately, ignoring it will only worsen your situation.
You don’t have to continue to suffer forever. Whether you’d like to go it alone or seek outside help, anxiety disorders can and should be treated.