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Jefferson Health

Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Five Signs You Should Talk to Your Doctor About Anxiety

Everyone feels anxious once in a while. Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when it’s misplaced or happens all the time, regardless of what’s going on in your life.
woman with head in hands

“Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear,” says Nancy DeAngelis, CRNP, director of Behavioral Health Services at Jefferson Health. “For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.”

Types of anxiety disorders
Anxiety and anxiety disorders can take many forms, which means that your problem with anxiety may be different than someone else’s. The most common forms include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This is characterized by persistent worry or fear. People with this disorder worry about a number of concerns, such as health problems or finances, and may have a general sense that something bad is going to happen.
  • Panic disorder. This is marked by recurrent panic attacks that include symptoms such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath or a feeling of choking, a pounding heart or rapid heart rate and feelings of dread.

“These attacks often happen suddenly, without warning,” says DeAngelis. “People who experience panic attacks often become fearful about when the next episode will occur, which can cause them to change or restrict their normal activities.”

  • These are intense fears about certain objects (spiders or snakes, for instance) or situations (such as flying in airplanes) that are distressing or intrusive.
  • Social anxiety disorder. This is also known as social phobia. People with this disorder are fearful of social situations in which they might feel embarrassed or judged. They typically feel nervous spending time in social settings, feel self-conscious in front of others, and worry about being rejected by or offending others.

“The common symptoms of anxiety include physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate and tightness around the chest,” says DeAngelis. “There are also psychological symptoms, such as the feeling that you are losing control or the overwhelming desire to run away or escape from the situation. The most common behavioral symptom is avoidance.”

When should you seek help?
DeAngelis points out five common signs of anxiety that should prompt you to seek help. These symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer over the course of several months:

  1. Difficulty concentrating
  2. Restlessness
  3. Irritability
  4. Sleep disturbance
  5. Muscle tension

It’s important to seek help for these symptoms since they can cause significant distress and affect your life and your relationships at home, in school, at work and in other important areas.

What to expect during an evaluation and treatment
“Evaluation for an anxiety disorder often begins with a visit to a primary care provider,” says DeAngelis. “Some physical health conditions, such as an overactive thyroid or low blood sugar, as well as taking certain medications, can imitate or worsen an anxiety disorder.”

There are several paths to treatment:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches a person different ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful situations. CBT can also help people learn and practice social skills, which is vital for treating social anxiety disorder.

Exposure therapy. This approach focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder in order to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. Exposure therapy is used along with relaxation exercises and/or imagery.

Self-Care. Treatment also consists of self-care such as avoiding alcohol, reduction in caffeine intake, physical exercise, stress management, smoking cessation, relaxation techniques or meditation and a healthy diet.

Treatment may also include medications and self-help or support groups.

“Don’t wait too long to seek treatment, which can cause you to suffer needlessly,” says DeAngelis. “Anxiety is very treatable and manageable.”

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