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5 Facts You Might Not Have Known About Anxiety and How to Treat It

From heart palpitations to insomnia, anxiety can cause a myriad of symptoms. Learn what happens to the body when anxiety takes over and how to treat it.

By Allison FuttermanMay 20, 2024 10:00 AM
woman with anxiety sitting in bed head in hands
(Credit: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock)


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Anxiety is a reaction to stress. It manifests itself in a variety of mental and physical effects. These include feelings of fear, dread, worry, unease, and tension. Other associated symptoms are shortness of breath, nausea, muscle tension, racing heart, headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety can lead to isolation and depression, as well as creating issues at work and/or school. 

Almost 20 percent of American adults have experienced anxiety. This equates to over 40 million people who have suffered from this potentially debilitating condition. Although normally impacting adults, it can begin in childhood. The most common mental health issue, anxiety, is sometimes intertwined with depression.

Although it can be difficult to manage, there are ways to address and reduce anxiety. Learn what there is to know about the condition.

Read More: The Biology of Stress in Your Body

1. The Brain Is Activated in "Fight or Flight"

When a person feels anxious, parts of the brain (primarily the amygdala and hippocampus) release chemicals and hormones, including cortisol. This is the brain’s way of telling our body to be on high alert to fight off danger. The body responds by increasing heart rate, breathing, and blood flow to the brain and vital organs. 

This process is known as the “fight or flight” response. It’s our internal system’s way of facing a threat by either staying to fight or fleeing. A common way this has been explained is to think about when our ancestors were faced with the threat of a saber-tooth tiger. They either had to take action or try to escape. 

Read More: The Link Between Toxic Stress And Poor Health. Here's How To Get Help

2. A Panic Attack Is a Form of Anxiety

There are several different types of anxiety. These include generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and social anxiety. But panic is the most severe form of anxiety.

Uncontrolled anxiety can trigger a panic attack. When people experience these attacks, they frequently develop a fear of it happening again. This can lead to a vicious cycle of anticipation and additional attacks.

Although there is an overlap between anxiety and panic, there are some symptoms that are specific to panic attacks worth noting.

  • Building anxiety — panic comes on suddenly, usually peaking within minutes

  • Intense and overwhelming level of fear and anxiety

  • Feeling a sense of impending doom or fear of death

  • Heart discomfort or feeling like you’re having a heart attack

  • Trembling 

  • Tingling or numbness

  • Chills or hot flashes

Read More: Can You Predict a Panic Attack?

3. Mindfulness Can Relieve Anxiety

There are a variety of ways to deal with anxiety. In less serious cases, there are ways you can alleviate anxiety on your own. These include healthy eating, practicing mindfulness or meditation, breathing techniques, reducing stress, exercise, and herbal supplements.

If anxiety is unmanageable, interfering with your personal or professional relationships, impeding your ability to take care of yourself, or causing thoughts of self-harm — it’s time to seek professional help. Two options are therapy and medication. 

4. Therapy Can Help Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective in treating anxiety. This method helps people to recognize their negative thinking patterns or distortions and reevaluate them.

By learning to reframe negative thoughts, people can change their thinking patterns to a healthier way of dealing with their circumstances. CBT typically focuses on current issues rather than delving into the past.  

5. Medication Can Treat Certain Forms of Anxiety

Medications used to treat anxiety include SSRIs, SNRIs, and benzodiazepines. An emerging treatment of interest is ketamine.

Due to its ability to quickly impact glutamate levels, ketamine has been shown the potential to reduce anxiety within hours. 

Read More: How to Improve Your Mental Health

Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

Allison Futterman is a Charlotte, N.C.-based writer whose science, history, and medical/health writing has appeared on a variety of platforms and in regional and national publications. These include Charlotte, People, Our State, and Philanthropy magazines, among others. She has a BA in communications and a MS in criminal justice.

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