For most of my life, I didn’t know I had anxiety. From the outside, I’m easy-going. I'm adventurous, spontaneous, and social. I’m not afraid of flying, speaking in public, or crowds.
But beneath my unruffled surface, my mind has always sped ahead at a million miles per hour.
I’ve been constantly worried about things that might happen, without any evidence they would.
Whenever a challenge or issue arose in my career, I would fear the worst-case scenario (which hardly ever came to be).
In relationships, I would always think that I had done something wrong — or that my partner was the one doing something devious.
Honestly, I thought all this was normal. I thought this was the way everyone's mind worked. I even saw therapists and a psychiatrist or two during particularly challenges times of life, but still, no one ever flat-out told me I had anxiety.
So, I didn't think these worries and anxious thoughts were affecting my life in any way. I didn't have any idea that they actually stemmed from mental illness. That is, until I finally started taking anti-anxiety medication at 29-years-old.
In the last couple years, I've dove deep into the research on anxiety, and how to treat it. I've learned so much that I wish I'd known about anxiety earlier — that no one ever told me.
My hope is that these facts might help you understand the way your anxious mind, or one of your loved one's anxious mind, works.
1. There are many different types of anxiety.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms. What I have is known as generalized anxiety disorder, which is marked by consistent, excessive worries that are difficult to control or stop. I never really had any physical symptoms of anxiety, or even panic attacks, which is probably why I didn't realize I actually had "anxiety" for so long.
Besides generalized anxiety, other types of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Different types of anxiety disorders manifest with different symptoms. For some people, it's all in their head — they feel like their mind is always racing, and they can't shut it off.
Others may have primarily physical symptoms, like an upset stomach, digestive issues, sweaty palms, a constant uneasiness, heart palpitations or bouncing legs. You could also experience specific fears, avoidance of social situations, shaking, dizziness, fear of losing control, a sense of unreality ― the list goes on.
Here's what an anxiety disorder isn't: worrying over an upcoming exam, feeling nervous about a job interview, or stressing about a difficult situation. These are all very normal times to experience a mild form of anxiety or worry — but that does not necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. Kinda makes you think twice about saying "I have anxiety" so flippantly, right?
2. It's incredibly common — and even more so in women.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common disorders in the U.S. It affects about 6.8 million American adults ― or about 18% of the adult population. Sadly, women are twice as likely as men to have it.
3. Anxiety is highly treatable.
This is the good news that I hope all anxiety sufferers take to heart! What all types of anxiety disorders have in common is that they are highly treatable. While the first line of treatment should be to get help from a mental health professional, medications are often prescribed as well to compliment therapy. (More on that below.)
4. Cognitive behavioral therapy (a.k.a. CBT or talk therapy) is the most common first-line treatment.
Research has found that this method of therapy is most effective for treating anxiety. In CBT, the therapist will help you identify worry-based, negative thoughts that you tend to repeat to yourself. They'll encourage you to challenge whether they really fit into the scenario, and see if you can replace them with more positive thoughts or behaviors.
5. Medications can also help people, especially with certain kinds of anxiety.
When is it time to take meds for anxiety? If you feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by anxiety, if you have trouble focusing at work, if your relationships are suffering or if your health is deteriorating, it's time reach out to a doctor. For people who have a genetic predisposition to anxiety (i.e. a family history), anxiety can be especially responsive to a prescription.
Today, the most common medications prescribed for anxiety are actually antidepressants, known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Examples include Zoloft, Lexapro and Prozac.They allow your brain to have more of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) around.
Benzodiazepines, which include Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin, are also used to treat anxiety ― but only in the short-term. This class of medications can have dangerous side effects such as dependency and withdrawal, so psychiatrists are less likely to prescribe those.
6. Taking medication doesn't make you a different person.
When I was prescribed an SSRI, I was worried it would change who I am, fundamentally. Not so.
In fact, it has allowed me to be myself more fully. It's allowed me to discard the heavy burden of worry that used to be constantly on my back. It's allowed me to live life more fully, without fear and anxiety attached to everything in it. It's allowed me to savor the little things in life, and feel happier in the moment — without worrying so much about the future.
7. Natural treatments and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference, too.
If you're not ready to take the leap into medications, lifestyle changes and supplements can also play a big role in managing anxiety.
For starters, try to incorporate more exercise into your day, especially mind-body workouts such as yoga — which is a proven stress-buster. Make sure you're getting enough sleep — too little sleep has been shown to directly affect anxious thoughts. Also, stick to a clean diet, focusing on whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats.
Finally, certain supplements can also help. Ashwagandha, an Ayruvedic herb, and magnesium, a mineral, have both shown to have anxiety-reducing effects, so they can be worth adding into your routine. (Click here for a full list of other natural supplements for anxiety.)
Also, due to the strong gut-brain connection, researchers are discovering that our gut health directly impacts our mental health. That's why probiotics, which benefit your gut flora, can also be super helpful in helping you deal with anxiety. Here's more on how probiotics can improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
Note that not all probiotics are created equally. Oral probiotics should contain Lactobacilli, as well as bifidobacterium in order to improve mood — both of which BINTO's probiotics contain. Fill out our survey today to learn more — the banner below will take you there!
Locke Hughes is a wellness writer and health coach. Learn more about her — and her health coaching services — here.