If you’ve ever felt a tightening in your chest, constant worried thoughts, or an inability to relax over long periods of time, you’re not alone. Research shows that anxiety disorders are quickly becoming one of the most prevalent forms of mental health-related conditions worldwide. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 3.1% of the population—or about 6.8 million U.S. adults—are already affected by generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Left untreated, anxiety disorders can become debilitating, even leading to physical symptoms and other health conditions. Anxiety can also impair one’s ability to perform at work, maintain healthy relationships, and pursue important opportunities in life.
Fortunately, treatment is available. By learning how to identify crippling anxiety, one can begin to take steps to effectively break free from it and confront life’s challenges with confidence.
- Anxiety is a highly common mental health condition that affects millions.
- Triggers vary from person to person and are based on the type of anxiety.
- Persistent anxiety can cause both mental and physical symptoms.
- 75% of adults agree that self-care is an effective tool for reducing anxiety.
What Is Crippling Anxiety?
Crippling anxiety is a debilitating anxiety disorder that significantly interferes with a person’s daily functioning and quality of life. Often characterized by intense and overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, or unease, crippling anxiety goes beyond what’s considered to be normal or manageable anxiety.
Crippling anxiety can impact various aspects of a person’s life, including relationships, performance at work or school, and overall health. For those with crippling anxiety, engaging in social activities and carrying out daily tasks can be challenging, and persistent anxiety can even lead to physical symptoms and other health conditions.
As New York Magazine writer and anxiety sufferer Sarah Wilson describes it, “Whatever the doctors want to call it, the feeling is the same—a gut-twisting, grip-from-behind, heart-sinking that winds me into spirals.”
Types of Crippling Anxiety Disorders
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept of anxiety. Anxiety disorders present themselves in several different ways based on the individual. A trained psychologist can identify and diagnose specific types of anxiety disorders in others.
- Phobias: Specific fears, such as fear of flying, heights, spiders, or public speaking, can trigger intense anxiety. This is called a phobia and can lead to severe anxiety symptoms when confronted.
- Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: For some, social situations can be anxiety-provoking, leading to severe feelings of anxiousness. This condition is called social anxiety disorder and is characterized by an intense fear of embarrassment or scrutiny in social situations.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This describes a mental health condition that is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety about various aspects of life, even when there is little or no apparent reason for concern.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This refers to a mental health condition that can develop in those who have experienced a traumatic event, such as one involving serious injury, death, or sexual violence.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): This disorder presents with recurrent and obsessive thoughts coupled with repetitive behaviors. Untreated, those with OCD can have significant difficulties navigating through daily life.
7 Common Triggers for Crushing Anxiety
Everyone’s experiences and perceptions are different, so triggers for severe anxiety can vary greatly from person to person. What may cause severe anxiety in one individual may not have the same effect on another. However, some common triggers tend to contribute to heightened anxiety levels in many people.
Common triggers for anxiety:
- Stressful life events: Major life changes, such as divorce, a move, loss of a loved one, job loss, financial difficulties, or academic pressure can trigger severe anxiety in susceptible individuals.
- Trauma: Past physical or emotional abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or witnessing a traumatic event, can lead to an anxiety disorder. These traumatic experiences can create long-lasting emotional and psychological effects.
- Phobias: Specific phobias can trigger intense anxiety when confronted with the feared object or situation. The anticipation or exposure to the phobic trigger can lead to severe anxiety symptoms.
- Social situations: For some individuals, social situations can be anxiety-provoking, leading to severe anxiety symptoms. Fear of embarrassment, judgment, or negative evaluation by others can trigger anxiety in social settings.
- Health concerns: Worries about personal health or the health of loved ones can contribute to severe anxiety. Fear of illness, medical procedures, or a perceived threat to one’s health can cause heightened anxiety levels.
- Uncertainty and unpredictability: Some individuals may experience severe anxiety when faced with uncertain or unpredictable situations. Lack of control or not knowing what to expect can be anxiety-inducing.
- Perfectionism: Setting excessively high standards for oneself, such as with traits of perfectionism, can contribute to severe anxiety.
Mental and Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.”Judson Brewer
Your sympathetic nervous system is the system responsible for responding to and preparing for dangerous situations. For example, if you’re almost hit by another car, your sympathetic nervous system activates to increase your heart rate and breathing to signal danger. If you aren’t hit, eventually, your body will return to homeostasis.
For those with crippling anxiety, however, returning to homeostasis can be challenging. This prolonged anxious state triggered by the sympathetic nervous system can disrupt your body’s natural balance and lead to additional mental and physical symptoms.
When a person’s cortisol levels are heightened, the ability to think clearly and rationally becomes greatly compromised, leading to other mental symptoms. For example, one study showed that 89% of individuals with anxiety surveyed had difficulty concentrating at a “clinically significant level.”
Mental symptoms include:
- Excessive worrying: Feeling a persistent sense of worry and fear, often about everyday situations or specific events.
- Restlessness: Being on edge or having difficulty relaxing.
- Irritability: Having a shorter temper than usual or being easily irritated.
- Difficulty concentrating: Finding it challenging to focus, experiencing mind wandering, or feeling easily distracted.
- Racing thoughts: Having a rapid flow of overwhelming thoughts.
- Fear of losing control: Feeling like you are losing control over your thoughts, actions, or circumstances.
- Anticipating the worst: Expecting the worst outcome in various situations and having a pessimistic outlook.
When crushing anxiety persists, both short- and long-term physical symptoms may present themselves. In an interview with Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Arthur Barsky explains, “Anxiety and stress themselves produce these physical symptoms, and on top of that, your reaction to those symptoms can make them worse. The more focus on them, the more alarmed you become, and the more intense your symptoms become.”
Physical symptoms include:
- Rapid heartbeat: Experiencing an increased heart rate or heart palpitations.
- Shortness of breath: Feeling breathless or having difficulty catching your breath.
- Muscle tension: Experiencing muscle tightness, tension, or trembling.
- Sweating: Noticing excessive sweating, particularly in stressful situations.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Experiencing digestive problems, like stomachaches or diarrhea.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired or exhausted, even without engaging in physically demanding activities.
- Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless, unsatisfying sleep.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness: Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, sometimes accompanied by a sense of unsteadiness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, Dr. Barksy shares: “The first step is to pause for a second and observe what’s going on with your body.”
Of course, the persistent presence of mental and physical symptoms can also lead to other symptoms. As author Judson Brewer says in Unwinding Anxiety, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become actions. Watch your actions. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character.”
Other symptoms include:
- Conflict in relationships: Living with worry can impact how you communicate with others, particularly if you have social anxiety. This can limit the growth of your relationships or even create conflict.
- Poor performance at work: It can become increasingly challenging to maintain deadlines and work efficiently due to the mental symptoms that result from crippling anxiety.
- The “Sunday Scaries”: Crippling anxiety can foster dread for an upcoming work week, making it harder to relax on the weekend. 80% of people experience the “Sunday scaries.”
10 Treatments for Debilitating Anxiety
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living; we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”Hillary L. McBride
1. Exploring Small Group Counseling and Support Groups
Studies have linked peer support with positive personal recovery. This is because connecting and sharing with people who are experiencing similar concerns can cultivate healing and renewed perspectives.
How to get started with a local or online support group:
- Explore group therapy from your home with Grouport.
- Find a support group through the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
- Connect with your local Mental Health America affiliate for support and resources.
2. Participating in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely supported intervention methods for anxiety disorders. By identifying the negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety, CBT helps individuals better evaluate the accuracy of these thoughts and challenges them with healthier thinking patterns.
Resources for exploring CBT:
- Use Zocdoc to find a licensed therapist or counselor in your area.
- Explore options for online CBT therapy, like with BetterHelp.
- Explore therapy and mental health apps, like the CBT Thought Diary.
3. Maintaining a Regular Exercise Routine
Regular exercise is an effective treatment for anxiety, as research has shown. This is because exercise stimulates the release of endorphins—the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. These endorphins then help to boost one’s mood, promote well-being, and reduce pain perception.
- Jogging or walking
4. Incorporating Relaxation and Mindfulness Techniques
Relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and journaling, can help individuals slow down and become more aware of their emotional and physical state. Simply breathing deeply for a few minutes has even been shown to reduce one’s anxiety levels.
Daily mindfulness techniques for a boosted mood:
- Practice mindful breathing with a five-minute breathing technique.
- Practice journaling each morning or each night.
- Do a guided meditation on the Calm or Headspace apps.
5. Taking Anti-Anxiety Medication
Anti-anxiety medications are commonly prescribed medications for the treatment of anxiety disorders. These medications work by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain, primarily gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the neurotransmitter that regulates excitability and anxiety.
Signs anti-anxiety medication may be right for you:
- You feel perpetually on edge and nervous, no matter what you do.
- Your body often feels tense, achy, or uncomfortable.
- You’ve become easily distracted and unable to concentrate.
- You avoid people and situations due to fear of failure or conflict.
6. Trying Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
Studies have shown that sensory-motor therapy, also known as sensorimotor psychotherapy or somatic therapy, is an effective body-centered approach to treating unresolved trauma. By integrating the mind and body to address psychological issues, including anxiety, it helps individuals become more aware of and regulate their bodily sensations as a means of promoting healing and well-being.
To learn more about sensory-motor therapy:
- Watch “What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?”
- Read The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.
- Visit the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute to find a psychotherapist in your area.
7. Implementing Self-Care
According to a national survey, 75% of adults agree that self-care techniques effectively reduce stress and anxiety symptoms while promoting overall well-being. These techniques can vary depending on what an individual needs, but it involves engaging in activities that nurture and support your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Self-care techniques to implement:
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Do daily guided meditations
- Set new personal boundaries.
- Implement different ways to be kinder to yourself.
8. Reducing Caffeine Intake
Most of us drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages for their stimulating effects. Doing so helps many of us stay alert and focus longer. However, caffeine’s stimulating effects can exacerbate anxiety symptoms for individuals with anxiety, leading to restlessness, jitteriness, and an increased heart rate. All of these effects can contribute to crippling anxiety.
Healthy alternatives to coffee:
- Green tea
- Rooibos tea
- Matcha tea (similar to green tea)
- Adaptogenic beverages, such as MUD\WTR
- Chicory root (roasted, ground, and brewed)
9. Exploring Cold and Cryotherapy
Growing evidence shows that various forms of cold therapy, such as ice baths, cold water plunges, and cold showers, are effective ways to improve one’s mood and reduce anxiety. This is because cold temperatures activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. Additionally, cold therapy triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins from the brain, producing an overall calming effect.
Resources for trying cold therapy:
- Search for a cryotherapy provider in your area (like IceBox Therapy).
- Check with local gyms and spas to see if they have an ice bath.
- Trigger endorphins first thing in the morning with a cold shower.
- Use your pool during the colder months for cold water plunges.
10. Stimulating the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a key component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and counteracts the body’s stress response. Stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to have potential benefits in reducing anxiety. As Dr. Mandell, host of motivationaldoc, explains: “This is going to decrease your heart rate, your blood pressure, allow better digestion to occur, as well as many other positive bodily functions.”
Ways to stimulate the vagus nerve:
- Get a reflexology massage.
- Explore cold therapy techniques.
- Engage in meditation and deep breathing exercises.
- Practice humming and singing to stimulate the vocal cords.
Overcoming Debilitating Anxiety for Optimal Health
“If you’re willing to pay attention to and dialogue with what’s happening inside of you, you’ll find that your body already knows the answers about how to live a full, present, connected, and healthy life.”Hillary McBride
Knowing when your mental health has turned for the worse isn’t always easy to pinpoint. Often, it takes others to speak up and draw one’s attention to a problem before it’s acknowledged as such. For this reason, if someone you know has been exhibiting anxiety symptoms for a while, speak up and tell them. If you’re experiencing crippling anxiety, accept the help and support from others.
Resources for overcoming anxiety disorders:
- Find a licensed therapist using a zip code search.
- Read Stop Overthinking by Nick Trenton.
- Check in with yourself with mindful body scan exercises.
- Download the Calm or Headspace apps for daily anxiety management.
If an anxiety disorder has affected your professional life, continue the path to recovery by reading “Anxiety at Work: How to Cope with It” next.
Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy.
- Xiong, Peng. “Trends in the Incidence and DALYs of Anxiety Disorders at the Global, Regional, and National Levels.” Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 297, Jan. 2022, pp. 83–93, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032721010983.
- “Anxiety Disorders – Facts & Statistics.” American Brain Coalition Proud Member, 28 Oct. 2022, https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics.
- “What It’s Like To Live With Chronic Anxiety.” YouTube, 6 Dec. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTRrFAFoWoY.
- Hallion, Lauren. “Difficulty Concentrating in Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2019, pp. 39–45, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748347/.
- Recognizing and Easing the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety. 1 Aug. 2020, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/recognizing-and-easing-the-physical-symptoms-of-anxiety.
- Entrepreneur, Helping. How To Overcome The “Sunday Scaries.” 17 May 2023, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-overcome-sunday-scaries-get-ahead-by-linkedin-news.
- Egmose, Cecilie. “The Effectiveness of Peer Support in Personal and Clinical Recovery—Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Psychiatry Online, Feb. 2023, https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.202100138.
- Curtiss, Joshua. “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatments for Anxiety and Stress-Related Disorders.” Psychiatry Online, June 2021, https://focus.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.focus.20200045.
- Aylett, Elizabeth. “Exercise in the Treatment of Clinical Anxiety in General Practice – a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” National Library of Medicine, July 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6048763/.
- Ma, Xiao. “The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults.” National Library of Medicine, June 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/.
- Classen, Catherine. A Pilot RCT of A Body-Oriented Group Therapy For Complex Trauma Survivors: 18 May 2020, https://sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/A-Pilot-RCT-of-A-Body-Oriented-Group-Therapy-For-Complex-Trauma-Survivors-An-Adaptation-of-Sensorimotor-Psychotherapy.pdf.
- “Vagaro – Vagaro Survey Finds Three-Quarters of Americans Believe Self-Care Activities Provide Stress Relief.” Vagaro, https://www.vagaro.com/news/press-release/www.vagaro.com/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
- Kelly, John. “Improved Mood Following a Single Immersion in Cold Water.” Lifestyle Medicine, vol. 3, no. 1, Dec. 2021, p. 53, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lim2.53.
- “Your Secret Weapon in Fighting Stress & Anxiety…The VAGUS Nerve | Dr. Mandell.” YouTube, 1 June 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKRf3eufY84.