Anxiety is a common sensation that many people experience. Different sources can contribute to anxiety and cause the feelings to worsen. Anxious triggers can vary from person to person.

Anxiety can lead to feelings of nervousness, apprehension, and worry. It can also cause physical symptoms, such as shallow breathing, sweating, or difficulty sleeping. If a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, they may have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental health conditions that may alter how a person behaves and processes emotions. They affect roughly 40 million adults in the United States.

The severity of anxiety can vary from vague and unsettling to seriously affecting daily life. Various situations, such as work stress, socializing, or a lack of sleep, may trigger or intensify feelings of anxiety. However, many strategies and treatment options are available to help people manage these feelings.

This article discusses anxiety in more detail, including factors that may exacerbate anxiety and how people can manage the condition. It also answers some common questions about anxiety.

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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is an emotion that doctors characterize by feelings of tension and worrying thoughts. It can also result in physical changes, such as increased blood pressure.

Anxiety usually occurs due to the anticipation of a future concern and is a long-term response. This is how anxiety differs from fear — a short-lived response to an immediate threat.

While occasional anxiety is a natural and healthy response, persistent or recurrent anxiety may indicate an anxiety disorder. These disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the U.S. Evidence suggests that over 19% of Americans have an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of anxiety may worsen over time, and feelings of overwhelming distress may begin to interfere with daily activities. Various factors can increase the likelihood of feeling anxious. However, a person may use strategies to manage their anxiety disorder, while several effective treatment options are available.

Anxiety disorders are complex, and researchers are still trying to understand why they develop.

One theory is that they may occur due to a disruption in how the brain processes emotion. The limbic system, which contains sections of the brain, such as the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and amygdala, plays a key role in behavioral and emotional responses. As such, people with anxiety may have higher levels of activity in these brain areas.

Several factors can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder and increase the likelihood of someone feeling anxious. They can include internal factors, such as genetic susceptibility, or external factors, such as financial concerns. Risk factors may include:

  • Family history: A person is more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if mental health conditions run in their family.
  • Other health issues: In some cases, anxiety may result from an underlying medical condition or as a side effect of a medication.
  • Certain substances: Consuming substances, such as recreational drugs, alcohol, and caffeine, can trigger anxiety.
  • Abuse: Experiencing any form of abuse, such as physical or verbal, can increase the risk of developing anxiety.
  • Life stressors: Ongoing stressful situations, such as work stress and relationship problems, can cause a person to feel anxious.
  • Environmental factors: Several variables in a person’s environment, such as their family composition, cultural and religious upbringing, and lived experiences, can influence their anxiety levels.
  • Learning history: People learn to respond to stress in different ways. Some of these ways may contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders.

Examples of stressful or unfamiliar situations and events that can exaggerate feelings of anxiety and worsen symptoms may include:

  • excessive stress and exhaustion
  • experiencing pressure from work or studying
  • job interviews
  • public speaking
  • lots of change or uncertainty
  • money issues
  • housing problems
  • relationship difficulties
  • bereavement
  • feeling lonely
  • worrying about the environment
  • experiencing bullying, harassment, or abuse

Learn more about common anxiety triggers.

Treatment options for anxiety may include lifestyle adjustments, medications, and psychological therapy. These methods will vary between people depending on the type of anxiety disorder they have and the presence of any underlying conditions.

Lifestyle changes

Some behavioral changes a person may consider to help manage anxiety can include:

  • regular physical exercise
  • getting sufficient sleep
  • having a nutritious and varied diet
  • limiting or reducing alcohol and other recreational drugs
  • maintaining a support network
  • using relaxation techniques
  • learning to cope during stressful situations instead of avoiding them

Medications

Several types of medications are available that can help support the treatment of an anxiety disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the four major classes of drugs for treating anxiety disorders include:

Learn more about the differences between SSRIs and SNRIs.

Psychotherapy

Another treatment option for anxiety disorders involves psychological counseling and therapy. These methods typically involve developing skills, techniques, and thinking patterns to help a person manage anxious symptoms in situations that make them feel uncomfortable.

Two types of talking therapies that may help with anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy and applied relaxation therapy. However, talking therapies may vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder a person has. For example, a doctor may recommend exposure therapy for someone with social anxiety or phobias.

Below are some common questions about anxiety.

Does anxiety worsen with age?

People of any age can experience anxiety, which can peak at different times in different individuals. However, some research suggests that with age, individuals may better regulate their emotions.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

While people experience anxiety differently, common symptoms may include:

  • feelings of nervousness, tension, and restlessness
  • faster breathing and an increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • having a sense of dread
  • ruminating thoughts, excessive and intrusive thoughts about negative experiences and feelings

How can someone treat severe anxiety?

Various treatment options are available, including:

Anxiety refers to the natural emotion that people may experience when in uncomfortable situations. However, in some individuals, anxious feelings may not go away. A person may have an anxiety disorder if this reaction becomes exaggerated or out of proportion to the trigger that causes it.

Many different factors or events can trigger symptoms of anxiety in an individual. These factors may include work stress or money problems. Many treatment options are available, such as therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes. Identifying and managing potential triggers may also help a person control their anxiety.