Understanding anxiety and finding help when you need it

Have you ever felt your muscles tense and your heart suddenly start to race? Do you ever feel a bit shaky or overwhelmed by worry that simply won’t subside?

It’s possible you’re dealing with anxiety.

It’s the most prevalent mental health concern in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults every year. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating – so how do you know where you fall on the spectrum — and how can you get help?

First, let’s define anxiety.

“Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Dr. Donald Tavakoli, UnitedHealthcare national medical director for behavioral health. “Occasional worrying is part of being human, but sometimes that worrying can worsen and transform into an anxiety disorder.”

There are several types of anxiety disorders; some of the most common include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

  • Excessive, ongoing worry that is difficult to control and often interferes with everyday activities
  • Some symptoms of GAD may include:
    • Restlessness
    • Being on-edge
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating

Panic disorder

  • An anxiety disorder which causes frequent panic attacks, or sudden time limited feelings of intense fear or terror without the presence of clear danger
  • Some symptoms of a panic attack may include:
    • Elevated heartbeat
    • Chest pain
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Dizziness

Social anxiety disorder

  • Everyday interactions with people can cause severe anxiety, embarrassment or self-consciousness, due to fear you’re being judged or scrutinized by others.
  • Social anxiety can affect relationships, daily routines and disrupt your life, if left untreated.
  • Some symptoms may include:
    • Intense fear of interacting with strangers
    • Anxiety in anticipation of an event or activity
    • Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people
    • Analysis of your performance or perceived flaws

Various phobia-related disorders

  • A strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.
  • Examples of these phobias may include heights, agoraphobia (public places), claustrophobia, highway driving, flying, animals, water, etc.
  • Some symptoms may include:
    • Strong desire to flee
    • Immediate intense panic
    • Rapid heartbeat, sweating, tight chest
    • Being aware that fears are irrational but feeling powerless

Whether you have anxious feelings or a clinical anxiety disorder, accessing resources can help.

Finding help

If you are feeling anxiety of any kind, remember you are not alone. There are many resources out there that can help you feel better and take control of your life. This may include:

1. Self-care apps

Self-care techniques, coping tools, meditations and more may be available through a self-care app. Some health insurers, including UnitedHealthcare, provide members access to phone and mobile app services at no additional cost. These tools should not replace treatment by a health care professional, but evidence suggests they can help complement your care plan.

2. Virtual visits for support

If you’ve noticed your anxiety has evolved from normal to nuisance and is beginning to affect your everyday life, it might be time to explore working with a specialist. Something like Virtual Behavioral Coaching may provide additional support outside a self-care app – leveraging a dedicated coach to help you get a handle on your anxiety or stress. Virtual options aren’t always a stand-alone replacement to appropriate treatment, but it can conveniently bring in a trusted relationship to help with practical problem solving.

3. In-person or virtual mental health providers

If your anxiety is impacting your ability to function andyour quality of life or if you simply feel you need an assessment to understand your symptoms and treatment options, consider consulting with your primary care physician to align on next steps. Alternatively, you can also visit your insurance provider’s website or contact them via the number on the back of your card to help find a mental health provider in your network. If you have access to an Employee Assistance Program, you may be eligible for counseling at no additional cost.

RELATED: Lifestyle changes to help you manage anxiety

It’s not uncommon to hope the issue will go away on its own but, if left unmanaged, anxiety symptoms may get worse. The earlier you ask for help, the more quickly your anxiety may be managed — and the sooner you can get back to feeling like you.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org/chat for 24-hour, toll-free, confidential support and prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. For TTY users, use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

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