Woman with anxiety disorder concept

A Beginner’s Guide to Anxiety

“At its worst, anxiety can feel like death. At its best, anxiety feels like a cramping stomach.”

– Ari Eastman

Racing thoughts, tight chest, panic, excessive worry. These are just some of many symptoms of anxiety that millions of people experience every day. Anxiety is no joke, and it interferes with the daily lives of millions, including myself. 

Anxiety started young for me and was the first mental illness that I recall showing up. Looking back, it is clear that it all started in grade school.

While I was already experiencing anxiety, the tornado I survived during my adolescence only made things worse. I had no clue what anxiety was and oftentimes unconsciously masked my symptoms to blend in with the crowd. 

But I was struggling.

As a teenager, I began to slowly draw inward. I became scared of everything and scared of the world. I still wasn’t understanding what was happening to me and really needed professional help.

But I wasn’t comfortable conveying it to those around me. So, no one knew.

I often wonder if I had understood anxiety earlier, would’ve have made a difference? I would like to think so. After all, knowledge is power.

But at the start of the millennium, anxiety, or mental health in general, just wasn’t something that people talked about. So, I wanted to put together a beginner’s guide to anxiety for those who are just now learning about it for the first time.

While resources on anxiety are easier to find these days, this guide will explain to you what anxiety is in plain English and how it can show up in your life.

What is Anxiety?

In my own words, anxiety is the internal chaos of the body and of the mind. A collision of all your thoughts and fears spiraling out of control. I can wake up with anxiety, go to sleep with anxiety, or anxiety can randomly pop up in the middle of my day.

Anxiety is often unpredictable and comes in ruthlessly.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), explains that anxiety is a mental health disorder that causes persistent, excessive fear or dread in situations that aren’t necessarily threatening.

Essentially, nothing can be happening that is considered a true threat, and you can still have anxiety.

While it’s perfectly normal to experience anxiety on occasion, those who suffer with an anxiety disorder experience fear and worry on a whole different level. Anxiety starts to interfere with their daily lives, and they may begin to avoid certain situations. 

Types & Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

While most of us refer to anxiety as just anxiety, there are indeed several different types of anxiety disorders. There are overlapping symptoms amongst the different types, but there are several key differences as well. 

Like most mental illnesses, anxiety is complex. And how it shows up for you may not show up the same way for another. Certain symptoms may be more severe for you than someone else who experiences anxiety. 

Let’s dig a little deeper on the different types of anxiety.

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Perhaps the most common anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder is when anxiety starts to get in the way of everyday life. When your thoughts, worries, and fears consume most of your day, you can be certain that GAD has set in. You may also begin to experience the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive worry/fear
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
  • Irritability
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping

2. Panic Disorder

This kind of anxiety is the worst. Panic disorder causes panic attacks, which literally make you feel like you’re dying. Some people may even believe they’re having a heart attack.

To experience this panic on any kind of consistent basis is pure torture. Panic attacks cause you to feel intense fear, even when there is no real danger.

And they often show up without warning. Some other symptoms you can expect from a panic attack are:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fear of dying/impending doom
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling/shakiness

3. Social Anxiety Disorder

Suffering from social anxiety can cause one to feel extreme fear, discomfort, and nervousness in social situations. Oftentimes, you may worry about being humiliated, judged, or rejected. So, to avoid all of that uncomfortableness, you begin to avoid social scenarios as much as you can.

Unfortunately, there are times where social situations cannot be avoided.

In those cases, you generally experience the same symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. However, there are a few symptoms that are unique to social anxiety, such as blushing or inability to maintain eye contact.

And social anxiety isn’t just about shyness. It is so much more than that.

Social anxiety can affect every aspect of your life, such as work, school, and any other daily activities that you may have. You might begin avoiding these scenarios as much as possible to lessen your anxiety.

4. Phobias

A phobia a type of anxiety that involves an intense fear of a specific object or situation.

We all have things that we are afraid of, but someone with a phobia has an extreme fear that gets in the way of their daily life.

There are many kinds of phobias, but some of the most common are: blood, heights, public speaking, flying, and animals (such as spiders and snakes).

What Can Cause Anxiety?

Like a lot of mental illnesses, there isn’t just one thing that causes anxiety. One key cause of anxiety is the environment you find yourself in.

Life itself can be hard.

When you have to juggle all the demands of everyday life, plus navigate through personal issues, it can be a lot for one person to handle. Personal traumas, illnesses, and even deaths can instigate anxiety. 

Treatment Options

If you’re ever questioning if you have anxiety or are unsure what steps you should take next, always speak with a mental health professional. It’s so important to seek out help even if you’re unsure. At the very least, reach out to your general practitioner.

Anxiety is treatable and there are several effective treatment options available.

What works for one person, may not work for you. So, it’s important to keep an open mind. You may find yourself incorporating all or a mixture of treatments.

The below list is also just a few of the many treatment options available today:

1. Psychotherapy

Also known as “talk therapy” or just simply “therapy”. Psychotherapy is when you talk to a mental health professional about your anxiety.

Therapy completely changed my life.

I finally had someone to listen to how I felt without any judgment. They were simply there to listen to my pain, help me navigate my way through it, and gain coping skills along the way. 

There are several different therapy options available, but likely individual and/or group therapy are the most common for treating anxiety.

And thanks to the pandemic, it’s now easier than ever to seek out therapy.

Telehealth has become the new norm and we can now talk to a counselor from the comfort of our own home just by using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

There are also several different approaches to therapy that you can try.

The Anxiety and Depression Associate of America (ADAA) points out several different methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EDMR).

2. Medication

I was hesitant about using medication to treat my anxiety and resisted the idea for quite some time. I hated taking medicine for anything and I just didn’t want to be on something for the rest of my life.

However, there came a point where I felt like I needed additional help other than therapy. And so, I finally decided to give it a try. 

While medication helped me, it may not be right for you.

If you ever find yourself in a pickle and can’t decide if medication is the next step, talk with your therapist to learn more prior to taking the leap. If your therapist is unable to prescribe medication, they likely can point you in the direction of someone who can.

You can also speak with your primary care doctor if you don’t have a therapist established.

These days, there are many different medications available. Your provider should be able to help you determine what is best for your needs.

Research the medication before committing to it. Find out any side effects the medication may have and discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to taking any medication.

3. Exercise

This can be a tough one for people who don’t necessarily enjoy exercise. But time and time again, exercise has been known to help lessen the symptoms of anxiety.

Personally, when I look back to periods of my life with less anxiety, exercise was always a part of my normal routine.

The best part is that there is so much you can do that can count as exercise!

Get out and enjoy nature. Take a walk, go for a hike, swim a few laps, or mow the yard. Heck – housework counts too! Maybe even consider doing something both new and fun that you’ve always wanted to try, such as tennis or dance lessons.

And who knows, maybe exercise will end up being something you can’t live without.

4. Yoga & Meditation

While these are two different things, I like to put them together as I sometimes incorporate them into the same session. Yoga and meditation can be life changing, but both require patience and an open mind.

Yoga incorporates a series of stretches, also known as poses, that are accompanied by different breathing techniques.

The awesome thing about yoga is that most people can easily practice it, no matter how active they are. Yoga is even often recommended to those who suffer from anxiety. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, yoga can reduce stress and help you become more focused and alert.

I also highly recommend integrating meditation into your life.

Meditation has been in existence for thousands of years and has been proven to lessen the symptoms of anxiety. Simply put, meditation is focusing your attention to the present moment and letting your thoughts come and go without judgment.

Oftentimes, your breath is the focus and the one thing to keep coming back to when distraction sets in. And the best part is you don’t even have to carve out a half an hour for mediation. Even just practicing meditation for 3-5 minutes a day can be beneficial to your mental health. 


You can never have too many resources to help you on your mental health journey. And anxiety is no exception!

Check out the below list for some of my go to resources whenever I am researching anxiety.

These resources have been invaluable to me over the years. Many of these sites can help you learn more about mental illnesses, as well as help you locate mental health professionals in your area. 

2•1•1Mental Health America
American Psychological Association (APA)National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Center for Disease Control (CDC)National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
MentalHealth.govSubstance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Wrapping It Up

If you’re experiencing an anxiety disorder, please know that you’re not alone.

In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported in 2017 that over 40 million adults (19.1%) in the US alone suffer from an anxiety disorder. That’s a lot of people.

I know that when you’re in the midst of anxiety, it can feel like you are alone. Like no one could ever possibly understand what you’re going through.

But if you find yourself struggling on a daily basis, please just don’t let anxiety control your life for years like I did. Help is out there and is more accessible than ever. 

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While there are plenty of scientific definitions of anxiety, it’s way more interesting to see how others view their own anxiety. So, how would you describe your anxiety? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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7 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Anxiety

  1. Meditation is the key to success for me. I am blessed to not suffer from crippling anxiety, but I can see that your beginners guide to anxiety would be helpful for those who do.

  2. This is a wonderful guide explaining anxiety, what it is, and ways to help! I have general anxiety about different things in my life. I try to manage it on a daily basis. Thank you for this great resource!

  3. I have anxiety. I remember even worrying as a kid about things. More recently, I’ve started getting panic attacks. I’ve tried all of these treatment options and have found certain combinations of essential oils and breathing exercises (sometimes yoga as well) work the best. If that doesn’t do the trick, a slow walk usually calms me down. It’s definitely not fun!

  4. A great beginner’s guide to anxiety. It is great to have treatments and options available. Thank you for sharing.

  5. My best friend has been struggling with crippling anxiety that’s been holding her back from pursuing her dreams. She’s been feeling overwhelmed and it’s affecting her career and personal life. Anyway, I’m strongly suggesting that she seeks anxiety therapy to regain control and find the confidence she needs to thrive. I hope she knows that essentially, you can experience worry despite there being no real threat present which is why she needs help.

  6. I never knew that healing the mind and body is the true healing for anxiety concerns. The other day, a friend of mine told me that he was hoping to have an anxiety treatment consultation to be enlightened as his brother has past traumas. He asked me if I had any idea what would be the best option to resolve it. Thanks to this instructive mental health guide article for a safe treatment approach. I’ll tell him that it will be much better if he consults trusted anxiety counseling as they can provide the best treatment for his brother.

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