The Basics: Overview
It’s normal to feel worried or afraid sometimes. But if worry or fear is making it hard for you to do your usual activities, talk with your doctor about anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and worry. It can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation, like losing a job or taking care of a family member who’s very sick. But if anxiety doesn’t go away, becomes overwhelming, or interferes with everyday activities, it may be an anxiety disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. For example:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: being very worried about everyday issues and activities
- Panic disorder: having sudden episodes of intense fear that involve symptoms like a pounding heart and trouble breathing when there’s no danger
- Social anxiety disorder: being very scared that other people are watching or judging you during social situations, like parties, work, or public speaking
- Phobias: being very afraid of a specific thing or situation, like spiders, flying, or being in a crowd
- Separation anxiety disorder: feeling very scared to be away from loved ones — for example, worrying that something bad will happen to family members when you’re not together
To learn more, check out this information on:
The Basics: Signs of Anxiety
What are the signs of anxiety?
Anxiety affects people differently, and every anxiety disorder has its own signs and symptoms. But for most people, anxiety involves:
- Anxious thoughts that are hard to control — like a constant worry that something bad might happen
- Physical symptoms — like a pounding or fast heartbeat, aches and pains with no obvious cause, or trouble sleeping
- Behavior changes — like avoiding everyday activities that you used to do
Having caffeine or taking other substances or certain medicines might make your symptoms worse.
The Basics: Causes
What causes anxiety?
Anyone can have anxiety. But some experiences may make it more likely that someone will develop anxiety. These include:
- Dealing with a stressful life situation, like a serious illness or a death in the family
- Experiencing trauma or abuse
- Having a family history of anxiety
In addition, people who have another mental health condition — like depression — may be more likely to have anxiety. Learn more about depression.
The Basics: Treatment
How is anxiety treated?
Anxiety can be treated with talk therapy, medicines, or both:
- Talk therapy involves talking with a mental health professional — like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. One common type of talk therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT focuses on changing the way you think or act to help you face your fears and manage anxiety.
- Medicines can include anti-anxiety medicines or certain antidepressants (medicines that are also used to treat depression).
Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional. And if you start taking medicine and it’s not working well enough, your doctor may have you try a different type of medicine.
Take Action: See a Doctor
Anxiety is more than occasional worry. It’s an illness that can be treated, just like any other illness. If fear or worry won’t go away and is affecting your daily activities — or if you think you might have an anxiety disorder — see your doctor.
Talk to a doctor about how you’re feeling.
Start by getting a medical checkup. Ask to see a doctor or nurse who can screen you for anxiety.
The doctor or nurse may also check to see if you have another health condition (like heart disease or diabetes) that can cause anxiety or make it worse. If you have one of these health conditions, it’s important to get treatment right away.
What about cost?
Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get anxiety screening at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost anxiety screening. Find a health center near you and ask about screening for anxiety.
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Take Action: Get Treatment
Get treatment for anxiety.
If you have anxiety, getting treatment is the best thing you can do.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional, or use this treatment locator to find mental health services near you. Some programs offer free or low-cost treatment even if you don’t have insurance.
Here are some places and professionals you can go to for help with anxiety:
- Doctor’s office or health clinic
- Family service or social service agency
- Psychologist or psychotherapist
- Counselor or social worker
Remember, even if asking for help seems scary, it’s an important step toward feeling better.
Take Action: Get Support for Anxiety
If you have anxiety, it can help to reach out to people around you for support. A trusted family member, friend, or faith leader can help support you as you seek medical treatment.
It may also help to find a support group for people who have anxiety. These groups might meet in person or online. While it can be helpful to talk to people who are experiencing the same things as you, keep in mind that support groups are not a replacement for seeing a doctor or mental health professional.
Finding ways to lower your stress can help you feel better. You can try:
- Physical activity: Try to find an activity you enjoy — like walking, dancing, or swimming.
- Meditation and mindfulness: Meditation can help you calm your mind, and mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps you be more aware of your thoughts and feelings in the current moment.
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If someone you care about has anxiety, get help.
If you think a friend or family member may have anxiety, check out these tips on how to talk to a loved one about anxiety.
And keep in mind that someone who has anxiety might also have depression. Take a look at this guidance on how to talk to a loved one about depression.