How Long Does Anxiety Last?

How Long Does Anxiety Last?

Author: GIA Miami
Published: August 25, 2022

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal response to stressful life events and is used to help us deal with threatening situations. We physiologically activate our "fight or flight" mode, also known as a stress response which adapts our body to prepare for any potential threat. Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Faster heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating

Whether this occurs before going on a rollercoaster or attending an important meeting, it is evolutionary to feel apprehensive when faced with stressful life events. However, if these feelings start to affect your everyday life, you could have an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Although these diagnoses can affect your ability to function, there are treatment options that can manage and reduce anxiety symptoms.

When Does Anxiety Become Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety usually tends to disappear after the situation becomes less stressful. Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association states that when avoidant behaviors and physical symptoms of anxiety persist, treatment options may need to be considered as this excessive worry can affect your quality of life.

There are various types of anxiety disorders that can be diagnosed by mental health professionals. They use a resource called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) which has established various mental health conditions. It is necessary to identify what specific anxiety disorder you may have before determining what treatment options are best.

Some of the anxiety disorders presented by the DSM-5 are:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) manifests as persistent and excessive worrying about things in everyday life like family relationships, work performance, and minor affairs such as appointments or chores. Alongside the worry and tension, physical symptoms such as sleeping problems, restlessness, and a lack of concentration can also occur.

These symptoms should occur most days over a period of six months to be GAD.

Panic Disorder

An individual with panic disorder may experience recurrent panic attacks when faced with situations or objects that are feared, whether expected or unexpected. A panic attack (also known as anxiety attacks) may present itself with the following psychological and physical symptoms:

  • Fear that you may die
  • Fear that you are choking
  • Derealization (feeling of unreality) and depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Racing heart rate
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands, feet, or face

Panic disorder diagnosis requires sudden, unexpected panic attacks alongside expected ones. Panic attacks may also coincide with other mental health conditions such as Depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) presents as an excessive fear of being judged or negatively evaluated by others in social situations. People with this disorder will go to great lengths to avoid situations where they will experience anxiety. Situations may include:

  • Public speaking
  • Meeting new people
  • Eating/drinking in public

American Psychiatric Association mentions this should affect daily life and last at least six months for a diagnosis of SAD.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety disorder refers to an intense fear of losing or being separated from a loved one. This severe anxiety may cause the person to avoid leaving or sleeping without their loved one. Nightmares about separation also occur with this anxiety disorder.

These feelings usually develop in childhood but are not limited to this time period. They must persist for six months in adults to meet the criteria for this anxiety disorder.

Phobias

Phobias refer to an extreme fear of certain situations or objects which are generally not threatening. Individuals with these phobias acknowledge it is irrational but struggle to overcome them. Avoidant behaviors are used to minimize the likelihood of facing these fears. Such fears may be public speaking, spiders, and heights.

Risk Factors for Developing Anxiety Disorders

People with mental health conditions like PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may experience more anxious feelings than the general population. These disorders used to be classified as anxiety disorders in the DSM but since it has been last updated, they no longer fall into the category.

Anxiety disorders or frequent feelings of anxiety can massively impact your life if left untreated. Areas like your relationships or work life can be negatively affected, and therefore it is important to seek treatment to ensure your everyday life is manageable.

There are biological, social, and environmental factors that may increase the likelihood of developing anxiety disorders:

  • Family history of anxiety or another mental health condition.
  • Health conditions such as heart disease.
  • Experiencing stressful or negative events

How Long Do Anxiety Disorders Last?

Due to the normality of anxiety, you will never be able to fully get rid of the reaction as it is a survival mechanism. Nevertheless, anxiety symptoms should go after the trigger or stressor has passed, whether that be an acute health issue or before that important meeting.

If left untreated, anxiety disorders can last indefinitely and worsen over time. Every individual case is different and there are many factors that determine how long an anxiety disorder will last:

  • Financial struggles
  • How quickly you diagnose and treat the disorder
  • The types of anxiety disorders (Social anxiety disorder is usually more difficult than the others)
  • Being diagnosed with multiple anxiety disorders

Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorder

The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety disorders can be managed with various evidence-based treatments. Seeking professional medical advice will help you to find a treatment that is tailored to fit your needs the best.

These are the following ways that have been suggested to treat anxiety:

Therapies

Talk therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is used to manage both physical and psychological aspects of anxiety disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one method that has been effective in the treatment of anxiety symptoms. It works by identifying the root of why certain behaviors exist and how to change the thought patterns behind them. It also introduces coping mechanisms for when individuals may be in an anxiety-provoking situation.

CBT requires a commitment to see the efficacy, usually taking around four to six weeks with regular, weekly sessions that involve tasks to do in between. However, if kept to it, changes in thought patterns will develop and help individuals to avoid relapses.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy sessions introduce the fear-provoking stimulus as an attempt to show the recipient that it is not as bad as they anticipated. This is especially effective with phobias and SAD.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises are a great way to overcome physical symptoms like panic attacks. This teaches you to become less overwhelmed by remaining in the present moment rather than contemplating the past and future.

Progressive muscle relaxation is another useful technique whereby you tighten each muscle group and relax it, one at a time. This allows for an increased sense of relaxation and emotional well-being.

Medication

Anti-anxiety medication like beta blockers works to slow the heart rate down, managing and reducing the physical symptoms. These can be used as a short-term fix or just to take when necessary. Benzodiazepines are also used to calm down the stress response and can work as quickly as 30 minutes. It is important to note that benzodiazepines can have negative side effects if they are taken regularly so they should not be seen as a permanent solution.

Anti-anxiety medications may also include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) which are also used for mental health conditions like major depressive disorder. Although effective, it takes a while to notice results.

Combination of Treatments

Despite medication either taking a while to work or having health complications such as substance abuse, combining it with therapy has been found to be beneficial. Specifically, psychotherapy and medication have more efficacy than one of them alone.

Do You Think You Have an Anxiety Disorder?

When occasional anxiety turns into chronic anxiety, it can feel like you are losing control. However, with any mental health condition, there are always treatment options available to help. Whether you are faced with persistent panic attacks or have a fear of social situations, research indicates that a combination of treatments can provide you with the skills to manage your anxiety disorder.

There is no set timeline for how long an anxiety disorder lasts as every case is individual. Research indicates the mean duration for anxiety is 15.2 months but this is not definite. It is crucial to see a mental health professional to find the perfect treatment for you and start the journey to recovery.

Get Help Today

You do not need to let mental health overwhelm you. With treatment at Gia Miami, we provide an outpatient service to get you on the road to recovery without disturbing your everyday life.

Integrating recovery into your daily life will help you ease into the life you deserve by being able to apply the techniques you learn in therapy in real-life settings. Our outpatient model allows you to have a smooth recovery.

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