How to Cope With Extreme Anxiety

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Anxiety is a normal part of life and everyone experiences it to some degree from time to time. It can be challenging to deal with and can seem overwhelming when it reaches the point where you feel like it is extreme or out of control.

When anxiety is severe or out of proportion with the actual threat, it may be a sign of a mental health problem. Extreme anxiety can be a sign of a number of different anxiety disorders. 

This article discusses what you can do if you feel like your anxiety is excessive and disruptive to your life. It also covers some steps you can take to find relief.

What Is Extreme Anxiety?

It is important to understand that extreme anxiety is not a clinical term or a diagnosis. Instead, it is a way that people can describe the subjective experience of severe anxiety or an anxiety disorder.

How people experience anxiety can differ from one person to the next. One person may feel symptoms like butterflies in their stomach, while another person might have a full-blown panic attack.

Suppose you are experiencing life-limiting anxiety and makes it difficult to function in different areas of life including work, school, and relationships. In that case, there is a chance that you might have an anxiety disorder.

Normal Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorders

Not all anxiety is a bad thing. Normal levels of anxiety can be adaptive because it helps prepare you for situations where you need to respond to stresses in the environment.

The difference between normal anxiety and what would be characterized as extreme anxiety is how it affects your ability to function and the level of distress that it creates.

When anxiety is extreme or severe, it makes it difficult or impossible for you to function normally in different situations. It may make it so you cannot work or socialize like you normally would. It can create such severe distress that you actually begin to avoid situations that are likely to trigger feelings of anxiety.

Recognize the Signs

If your feelings of anxiety are severe in their duration, intensity, and impact on your life, there is a strong likelihood that you have some type of anxiety disorder. Only a doctor or mental health professional can diagnose an anxiety disorder, but some of the symptoms that may indicate a problem include:

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heart rate, increased breathing rate, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath
  • Extreme feelings of fear or anxiety that are out of proportion to the actual threat
  • Irrational fear or worry about different objects or situations
  • Avoiding the source of your fear or only enduring it with great anxiety
  • Withdrawing from social situations or isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Feelings of irritability and agitation
  • Sleep difficulties such as trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as stomach aches or digestive problems
  • Feeling uneasy and worried 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with doing your typical everyday tasks
  • Interpersonal and relationship issues
  • Thoughts of suicide

Extreme anxiety can also manifest as a panic attack. Panic attacks are characterized by an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by a variety of physical sensations including rapid heart rate, choking sensations, nausea, trembling, chills, a sense of unreality, impending doom and a feeling of losing control, "going crazy" or dying.

Types of Extreme Anxiety

It is also essential to understand that there are many different types of anxiety disorders. Your doctor or therapist can evaluate your symptoms and determine what kind of condition you might have.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: This condition is characterized by feelings of excessive worry about a number of events, activities, and situations accompanied by a variety of other symptoms including restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: This condition is characterized by unwanted recurrent thoughts and compulsive, repetitive behaviors. People with this condition may engage in repetitive behaviors that help temporarily ease the feelings of anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts. 
  • Panic disorder: This anxiety disorder is marked by intense and recurrent panic attacks that occur unexpectedly. During a panic attack, people who have this condition experience extreme anxiety that causes feelings of terror and physical symptoms of fear. During a panic attack, people often feel that they are losing control or dying.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: People with PTSD experience extreme anxiety and distress symptoms due to being exposed to a traumatic event. Symptoms can include hypervigilance, flashbacks, and intrusive memories of the trauma.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This condition is characterized by feelings of extreme anxiety in social situations. People who have this condition often try to limit or avoid social settings, which can negatively affect their ability to function in relationships, work, and school. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Talk to a Professional

Anxiety is one of the most common types of mental health conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 19.1% of adults in the United States experience an anxiety disorder each year and an estimated 31.1% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives.

Anxiety disorders also tend to be more prevalent among women than men. Because women are twice as likely as men to be affected by an anxiety disorder, experts suggest that women and girls age 13 and older should be screened for anxiety during regular health exams.

If anxiety is making it difficult to function normally or creating significant distress in your life, it is important to get help. This anxiety typically will not go away on its own and it often grows worse over time. Many of the coping strategies that people use to decrease anxiety—such as avoidance—end up making the problem worse. 

Anxiety is a common problem that tends to affect women more than men. If you are experiencing extreme anxiety, it is important to seek help from a health professional. A mental health professional can diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options that can help you combat feelings of extreme anxiety. 

Understand Your Treatment Options

Several effective options can treat extreme anxiety caused by different anxiety disorders. While your treatment plan may vary, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are two of the most commonly used and most effective psychotherapeutic options for treating anxiety symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment approach that works by helping people identify and change the automatic negative thoughts that contribute to feelings of anxiety. During treatment, people also learn to identify the situations that trigger anxiety, work on changing their avoidance behaviors, and practice relaxation techniques to reduce feelings of anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is another effective treatment approach that can help people reduce feelings of extreme anxiety. This technique involves being gradually and progressively exposed to what the individual fears.

This exposure is done slowly and in a safe, controlled way. During this exposure, people also learn to practice relaxation techniques. Over time, the thing that triggers the fear elicits less of a response and people are better able to tolerate it without experiencing anxiety or panic.

Medications

Medications may sometimes also be used to help people manage their symptoms of anxiety. This may include the use of benzodiazepines and antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Medications are typically most effective when they are used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Anxiety can be treated in a number of psychotherapeutic ways, but CBT and exposure therapy are two of the most commonly used, evidence-based options. Medications may also be prescribed to decrease anxiety symptoms or treat co-occurring conditions.

Coping With Extreme Anxiety

Living with anxiety can present a number of challenges, but there are self-help strategies that you can use to help manage your symptoms.

  • Find social support: Having people to support you is critical to psychological well-being, but it is especially important when you are dealing with a problem like extreme anxiety. Consider talking to a trusted loved one about your symptoms. There are also other support options available including online and offline anxiety support groups. Talking about your feelings with other people who have been in your shoes is a great way to find support, care, and encouragement.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and not worrying about past or future problems. It can be a way to quiet anxious thoughts, calm the body, and gain greater awareness. A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that mindfulness was associated with lower levels of anxiety.
  • Deep breathing: Anxiety can often lead to short, rapid breathing. Research has found that slow breathing techniques can have a number of health benefits, including decreasing symptoms of anxiety. It can be a helpful technique to help ease symptoms during times of stress. 
  • Limit avoidance behaviors: While avoiding the things that make you anxious can provide short-term relief, this strategy tends to make anxiety worse in the long run. Instead of avoiding your triggers, focus on dealing with them gradually. Start small and utilize your coping strategies to help you reduce your feelings of anxiety. Use relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and remind yourself that anxious thoughts are just thoughts. 

A Word From Verywell

Extreme anxiety can create considerable distress and make it very difficult to function in your normal everyday life. If you are dealing with symptoms of anxiety that seem extreme, excessive, and out of proportion to the actual threat, talk to your doctor. There are effective treatments available that can help you find relief from these feelings of anxiety.

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8 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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