How to Deal With Crippling Anxiety

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Anxiety is a part of being human. It can be frustrating, and sometimes you just have to deal with it on your own terms. When anxiety overwhelms you to the point that it is crippling, however, that's when you have a sign that something more serious may need attention.

What Is Crippling Anxiety?

Rather than being a clinical term, crippling anxiety is a common expression used to describe severe anxiety or an anxiety disorder

And in order to understand anxiety disorders, it's essential to differentiate them from the everyday pressures and stressors people experience in their daily lives. For example, feeling nervous or having butterflies in your stomach before giving a presentation is typical and expected.

However, when you experience anxiety more often than not, and it becomes challenging to complete daily tasks or participate fully in your life; it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Sometimes, crippling anxiety is a sign of a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Let's take a look at some of the most common types of anxiety disorders and what they might feel like in terms of crippling anxiety.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are constantly worrying about something, whether it be a disaster that could occur at any moment or money issues. Because of this type of crippling anxiety, they end up being unable to enjoy themselves and live their lives how they want because stress is always getting in the way.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: OCD is a debilitating disorder involving recurrent thoughts and behaviors, which often lead to insomnia or physical exhaustion due to the resulting crippling anxiety.
  • Panic disorder: The fear that takes over when you have a panic attack is like being in mortal danger, and it's completely overwhelming. You might experience rapid heart rate; excessive sweating, nausea or dizziness; difficulty breathing or racing thoughts as well.
  • Phobias: A phobia is when someone has an irrational fear of a particular situation or thing, such as heights. A person with this type of crippling anxiety will avoid certain places and situations to keep themselves safe from something they can't control.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a response to experiencing or witnessing an event that causes extreme fear, horror, and distress such as natural disasters. Symptoms can range from feeling detached from one's self with repeated flashbacks of the traumatic event to feeling like your "fight-or-flight" system kicks into high gear when you are in situations similar to those experienced during the trauma itself. It can be crippling in the sense that normal everyday experiences can trigger extreme anxiety.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is a condition where people are terrified of being judged by others or have crippling anxiety in social situations. They can be so self-conscious that they avoid any and all socializing, which hurts their ability to make friends or form relationships with anyone.

Signs Of Crippling Anxiety

Regardless of the type of anxiety disorder or crippling anxiety that you experience, many of the signs and symptoms will be the same. If you aren't sure whether what you are experiencing is crippling anxiety, consult the list below and see if it matches what you are experiencing.


Some of the symptoms of crippling anxiety include the following:

  • Isolating, or withdrawing from social situations
  • Unexpected or unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Intense feelings of irritability
  • Trouble falling asleep, waking through the night, or having nightmares
  • Feeling agitated or unable to sit still
  • Physical health concerns like headaches, body aches, etc.
  • Having an upset stomach/nausea/digestive problems
  • Problems in relationships
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Acting out/aggressive behavior/quick to anger
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Constant worry or racing thoughts
  • Inability to keep up with life's tasks
  • Feelings dizzy or lightheaded
  • Problems breathing or tightness in the chest
  • A general feeling of uneasiness

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Treatment for Crippling Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

One of the most important things to know about crippling anxiety is that you're not alone. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in America, affecting approximately 40 million people. You may feel that you're the only one, but there's no shame in asking for help.

The most equipped person to treat your anxiety is a licensed mental health professional, like a therapist or psychiatrist. You can try out in-person therapy or an online therapist. 

Whichever type of treatment or therapy you choose, consider looking for someone specializing in anxiety disorders. Your treatment may include the following interventions.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely recognized therapeutic interventions for anxiety. As a problem-specific, goal-oriented approach, CBT focuses on the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT involves various strategies that work together to shift your response to triggers or other underlying causes, including:

  • Possible triggers to panic and anxiety attacks.
  • Identifying thoughts and related behaviors that could lead to heightened anxiety and changing them.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises and mindfulness practices.
  • Learning coping skills to manage severe symptoms of anxiety. 

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that's frequently used alongside traditional treatment methods for anxiety. It's a short-term, 8-step method that uses repeated bilateral stimuli, as an object or finger moves back and forth while the person follows it with their eyes.

Throughout these sessions, the individual addresses an anxiety-provoking situation, past trauma, or another issue, which ultimately helps reduce its impact throughout treatment.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is used to treat people who have extreme anxiety and phobias. It involves gradual exposure to the things you're afraid of through repeated contact over time until it becomes easier to face what triggers your fear.


Anxiety can be treated with a variety of medications including benzodiazepines (which only need to be taken as needed), SSRI and SNRI antidepressants such as citalopram (Celexa) or duloxetine hydrochloride (Cymbalta).

Coping with Crippling Anxiety

  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust instead of bottling them up.
  • Meditate or do other things to slow down your breathing.
  • Practice yoga or another exercise that makes you feel calm.
  • Take care of your body: eat healthily, drink plenty of water, and take vitamins and minerals such as magnesium.
  • Play music that brings you joy or read passages from your favorite book.
  • Do something creative like painting, drawing, or going outside for a walk.
  • Journal about what is causing you anxiety and what you are feeling.
  • Do something social: call a friend, volunteer to help someone less fortunate than you or go out with friends for coffee.
  • Find comfort in things that make you happy, like your favorite TV show or pet.
  • Go to bed at a regular time and get up at a regular time each day to ensure you get enough sleep to help manage anxiety.
  • Remind yourself that anxiety is only temporary; it will pass eventually if you let it.
  • Get up and do something physical, such as going for a walk or doing some stretches. Research has shown that exercise can help to manage stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen anxiety symptoms.
  • Focus on the present; don't think too far into the future or dwell on past mistakes.
  • Put together an "Anxiety Survival Kit" with items that make you feel calm and relaxed (e.g., a favorite blanket, calming music).

A Word From Verywell

You don't need to live with crippling anxiety forever. It's manageable and responds well to treatment, but it can be tough when you're feeling lost in your thoughts of what the next day may bring. Remember that everyone is different and has their own needs; working with a mental health professional can help determine which treatments work best for you.

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.

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.
  1. NIMH. Anxiety Disorders.

  2. ADAA. Facts and Statistics.

  3. NIH. Meditation: In Depth.

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep and Mental Health.

  5. ADAA. Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.