What Is Chronic Anxiety?

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What Is Chronic Anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Most people occasionally worry about things like their work, school, finances, family, friends, or health.

However, if you find that you often experience fear or anxiety, or cannot stop yourself from worrying constantly, you may have an anxiety disorder.

“Chronic anxiety is a form of anxiety that persists for a very long time. Treatment can make it better but it may not go away completely,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author.

In fact, according to a 2017 study, anxiety disorders tend to be chronic, long-term conditions, with periods of more and less severe symptoms. Persistent, chronic anxiety can significantly impact your life, affecting your ability to function at home, work, and in social settings.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of chronic anxiety, as well as some treatment options and coping strategies that may be helpful.

Types of Chronic Anxiety

There are different types of anxiety disorders that can cause chronic anxiety. They include:

Chronic anxiety is often caused by generalized anxiety, but not always, says Dr. Daramus. It may also be caused by other types of anxiety disorders, or even some personality disorders, according to Dr. Daramus.

Symptoms of Chronic Anxiety

These are some of the symptoms of chronic anxiety, according to Dr. Daramus:

  • Anxious thoughts
  • Excessive, often unwarranted worry 
  • Fear or panic
  • Repeated, obsessive thoughts
  • Difficulty controlling anxiety
  • Restlessness and difficulty relaxing
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Tiredness and fatigue

With chronic anxiety, the symptoms will likely have been around for a long time, sometimes from childhood, says Dr. Daramus.

However, Dr. Daramus notes that the symptoms may change form—for example, they may sometimes be more physical, whereas other times they may be more psychological.

The symptoms may also vary depending on which type of anxiety disorder you have. For instance, Dr. Daramus says if the chronic anxiety is caused by obsessive compulsive personality disorder, you may experience symptoms such as perfectionism, feeling anxious when things aren’t tidy enough, or getting upset if you’re running two minutes late for something.

Causes of Chronic Anxiety

Chronic anxiety often stems from a combination of factors. These are some of the potential causes, according to Dr. Daramus:

  • Genetic factors: Genetic factors can play a role in causing anxiety. A person may be more likely to have it if a biological relative has it. However, a stable and calm family life can help offset genetic risk.
  • Environmental factors: Trauma, stress, or other negative environmental factors can make someone more likely to develop chronic anxiety. It’s important to recognize whether a history of trauma is driving the anxiety, because trauma-driven anxiety needs different approaches in therapy than other types of anxiety.
  • Social issues: Larger societal problems like climate change, discrimination, political factors, or a pandemic can worsen anxiety.
  • Personality traits: People who tended to be shy as children, or felt nervous or distressed in new situations may be more likely to experience anxiety as adults.

Diagnosing Chronic Anxiety

If you suspect you or a loved one have chronic anxiety, you should seek help as soon as possible. A qualified mental healthcare professional such as a psychiatrist, licensed psychologist, or licensed counselor or social worker can diagnose chronic anxiety, says Dr. Daramus.

According to Dr. Daramus, the diagnostic process may involve:

  • A long clinical interview in which the healthcare provider asks about your symptoms, the effect of anxiety on your life, and your personal and family history of mental health issues
  • A questionnaire of your symptoms that you may have to fill out at the healthcare provider’s office
  • A health checkup with bloodwork, to look for thyroid problems or other medical issues that can mimic anxiety

Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider will determine whether you have an anxiety disorder or a mental health condition that's causing you to experience chronic anxiety.

Treating Chronic Anxiety

Below, Dr. Daramus explains how therapy and medication can help treat chronic anxiety.

Therapy

Therapy can help you manage anxious thoughts, emotions, and muscle tension. It can also help eliminate or reduce panic. Depending on your unique needs, your healthcare provider may also work with you on social skills, relationship skills, lifestyle changes, or negotiating and boundary-setting.

These are some of the forms of therapy that can help with chronic anxiety:

Medication

These are some types of medication that can help treat chronic anxiety:

  • Antidepressants: While antidepressants are used to treat mood disorders like depression, they can also help with some anxiety disorders.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications, known as anxiolytics, can help treat anxiety; however, they can be addictive, so they are only used in certain cases when nothing else is helping.

Coping With Chronic Anxiety

Dr. Daramus shares some strategies that can help you cope with chronic anxiety:

  • Work toward stability: One of the most important aspects of coping with chronic anxiety is doing what you can to create a stable living situation and stable relationships. While therapy and medication are effective, nothing is as effective as the right surroundings and the right people, so change what you can. Be with non-toxic people whose presence makes you feel calmer. In addition, incorporate a stable routine into your life. Routines are known to help decrease anxiety and help people feel more in control.
  • Recognize anxious thoughts: Practice recognizing when your thoughts are irrational so you're not treating anxious thoughts as if they're true. This will help you manage anxious thoughts and limit the impact they have on you.
  • Develop different coping methods: You might need a few different coping skills for different levels of anxiety. Really high anxiety might respond to a different technique than medium-level anxiety. Find different coping skills that work for you in different situations.
  • Practice yoga or meditation: Take up some form of meditation, yoga, or mindful awareness. There are many different types of mindfulness practices, so experiment until you find one that you'll do consistently, most days of the week. 

A Word From Verywell

Chronic anxiety can be hard to live with. It can cause you to experience physical and emotional symptoms that can make it difficult for you to function. Seeking treatment for chronic anxiety and developing coping skills can help you reduce the symptoms and manage the condition better.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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