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Interactive Health
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Anxiety Disorders

It's normal to feel anxious at times. Most people have had that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling before doing something like present in class or compete in a sport. That type of anxiety has a purpose. It helps you prepare for a challenge.

But sometimes people feel anxiety that is too intense. Instead of fading away when a challenge is over, anxiety seems more than they can cope with. Worries or fears take up too much of their time and energy. They may feel anxiety even when there’s no threat. They begin to avoid things that make them anxious. These things can be signs of an anxiety disorder.

How Do Anxiety Disorders Affect People?

Because of too much anxiety, people might avoid going to school or sleepovers. They might feel too anxious to join a discussion. They might not go places on their own or do new activities. They might have trouble sleeping or eating. They enjoy their life less because of anxiety. They might have physical signs of anxiety, too — such as stomachaches or headaches.

Someone with an anxiety disorder may:

  • think they can’t face things that make them anxious
  • worry about all the bad things that could happen
  • feel more anxiety and worry than is usual for a situation
  • need others to keep telling them things are OK
  • do things to try to rid themselves of anxiety
  • feel afraid of things that aren’t dangerous
  • feel so anxious they can’t calm themselves
  • avoid things that make them anxious or nervous

What Is the Therapy for Anxiety Disorders?

A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works well for most people with anxiety disorders. CBT helps you learn other ways to think and act when you feel anxious. In therapy, you learn how to face fears instead of avoid them.

In therapy, you meet with a therapist to talk and learn. CBT therapists teach you how your thoughts affect the way you feel and what you do. In this therapy, you talk through things that make you anxious. The therapist asks questions to guide the discussion. Together, you break down situations into what you think, feel, and do.

In therapy, you learn coping skills. You choose new ways to think and act in anxious situations. You discuss and try these things out during the therapy sessions. You decide on how to practice your new skills outside of therapy. Then you have more visits with the therapist to talk about what you learned from practice. You talk about your progress.

At your own pace, you learn to face things without having anxiety hold you back.

What to Do

If you think you have an anxiety disorder:

Tell a parent or another adult you trust. Explain what you’re going through. Ask your parent to set up a visit with your doctor or a therapist. This can help you find out if you have an anxiety disorder — and what can help.

Have a health checkup. Tell your doctor about your anxiety problem. They will ask questions and listen. They can also check for health issues that could be the cause of your symptoms. If there is a health issue, they can take care of it. If you have an anxiety disorder, your doctor can refer you to a therapist.

See a mental health therapist. They will explain what can help. They can give you therapy. They can also teach parents how to best help you.

Take care of yourself. Get the exercise, food, and sleep you need. Find ways to reduce your stress. Be with people who bring out your best. Learn to meditate. Think about the way your life can be when anxiety isn’t holding you back.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2022