You're not imagining it: We really are suffering from anxiety more than ever before. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s annual poll, 39 percent of Americans reported higher levels of anxiety in 2018 than in the year before. And women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. But don’t let your feelings crush you. You're not alone: Adele, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Sarah Silverman, and others have spoken publicly about their struggles. And there is hope—right here in Marie Claire’s guide to decoding and demystifying anxiety.
We talked to experts who break down everything going on behind the scenes in your brain and body, round up the latest therapies and treatments, and offer advice and testimonials to help you hack your way to happy. Because the more you understand what you’re feeling and why, the less overwhelming it is and the more you’ll feel like your anxiety is something you can conquer or at least keep in check. So take a deep breath and read on. We promise you’ll feel better.
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What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder):
Persistent and excessive worry; diagnosed when someone finds it difficult to control worry for at least six months.
OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder):
Characterized by unwanted thoughts, images, or urges as well as repetitive behaviors a person feels compelled to perform to ease anxiety.
Sudden and intense panic attacks and fear of recurring attacks.
Strong, persistent, irrational fear of places, situations, or objects that pose no threat. Examples: acrophobia, the fear of heights; arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.
PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder):
Anxiety, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and insomnia following a traumatic event.
Social Anxiety Disorder:
Intense fear of being judged, embarrassed, perceived negatively, the center of attention, or rejected by others.
What’s going on inside the brain and body when you feel anxious?
The “fight or flight” hormone controls the immediate reaction to stressful events, eliciting a surge of energy.
The “stress hormone” controls the longer term reaction, maintaining blood pressure, fluid levels, and bodily functions.
Known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it’s activated by pleasurable things like sex and food.
Like adrenaline and cortisol, this hormone is secreted during stressful events; makes you feel awake and focused.
This happy-making neurotransmitter is responsible for your mood.
What are the best/most common treatments for anxiety?
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy):
Teaches patients to be comfortable with the uncomfortable instead of denying the feelings.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy):
The leading therapy for anxiety; helps patients work through feelings and identify destructive behaviors, changing how they react to stressful situations.
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy):
Helps change unhealthy behaviors by teaching mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques):
Often called “tapping”; patients focus on a specific emotion while tapping certain points on the body (like acupuncture, minus the needles).
SST (Single-Session Therapy):
A therapist and client meet once to discuss mental health and coping mechanisms; developed after researchers learned many people, upon attending a therapy session, don’t return.
The sound of writing on a chalkboard lulls me into a relaxed state, my back and shoulders tingling. To get the effect, I listen to the Gentle Whispering channel on YouTube, featuring Maria, a Russian-born woman whose classroom lessons in her native language have spared me from countless sleepless nights. Not everyone who watches will experience the delicious tingling sensations of ASMR, but the videos are guaranteed to help you relax—and perhaps learn a bit of Russian. —Blane Bachelor
In my 20s, my fear of suffocating devolved into an obsession: I couldn’t eat or take public transport, could barely go to work. In therapy sessions, I was exposed to my triggers—eating, drinking, enclosed spaces—and we’d discuss the rapid breathing, limb numbness, and racing heart that followed. Instead of shaking the feelings, I was taught to experience them to their maximum. Over time, I learned I could endure them, which gradually lessened my fear. —Jenny Hollander
The appeal of telepsychology is clear: It’s low-cost and requires no commute. But do the apps work? I test-drove several popular options. Each sends reminders that can be scheduled to work around your day. Most track how often you log in, creating rewards, but can start to feel like another item on your to-do list, and missing one day resets your record back to zero—not ideal for the overachievers among us. Still, they are definitely better for your mental health than Instagram scrolling or candy crushing. —Alyssa Haak
Baking? Blankets? Not all anxiety solutions require a prescription. Here's a rundown of our favorite alternatives.
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Marie Claire.