Anxiety

Worried that you worry too much? Everyone worries or gets scared sometimes. But feeling extremely worried or afraid much of the time, or repeatedly feel panicky, may be signs of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders include panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are among the most common mental illnesses, affecting roughly 40 million American adults. A person has an anxiety disorder if she or he has persistent worry for more days than not, for at least several months. Some people with anxiety feel they have always been worriers, even since childhood or adolescence. In other people, anxiety comes on suddenly, triggered by a crisis or a period of stress, such as the loss of a job, a family illness, the death of a relative, or other tragedy.

Numerous therapies can help control anxiety. These include psychotherapy and medication, ideally supported by good nutrition, sleep, and regular exercise. People who are anxious tend to reach for unhealthy "comfort" food—and then worry about it. Or they completely avoid food, skipping meals or even fasting—and worry that something is wrong, such as an undiagnosed cancer. Healthy eating can avoid these anxiety triggers.

Not getting enough sleep can boost a person's anxiety level. On the flip side, getting enough sleep can help control stress and anxiety. So can getting regular exercise—aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week.

Anxiety Articles

Always worried about your health? You may be dealing with health anxiety disorder

 Image: © XiXinXing/Getty Images You spend hours on the Internet researching health information. When you get a scratchy throat you automatically think cancer — not a cold. And even when medical tests come back showing that you're healthy, it doesn't make you feel better. In the back of your mind you still feel like something is wrong. If this sounds like you or a loved one, it may be health anxiety. More »

Are you missing these signs of anxiety or depression?

 Image: © davidf/Getty Images The signs of mental illness aren't always obvious. Subtle changes in mood or behavior are often attributed to aging, just like weaker muscles and fuzzy thinking. "There's a tendency to dismiss it as, 'Well, of course I'm worried, I have heart disease,' or, 'Of course I'm sad, I'm not as relevant as I once was,'" says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. But depression (extreme sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness) and anxiety (debilitating worry and agitation) do not need to be routine parts of aging. Getting help for these feelings can help you maintain your health and enjoy life to the fullest. More »

How meditation helps with depression

 Image: © skynesher/Getty Images Depression continues to be a major health issue for older adults. It affects about 20% of adults ages 65 and older, and regular depression can lead to higher risks for heart disease and death from illnesses. It also affects people's daily lives by making them more socially isolated and affecting cognitive function, especially memory. In fact, a study of 1,111 people (average age 71), published online May 9, 2018, by Neurology, found that those who had greater symptoms of depression also had worse episodic memory — the ability to recall specific experiences and events. More »

Is fibromyalgia real?

Q. My friend was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but it seems like she might be imagining her symptoms. Is fibromyalgia a real condition? A. The short answer to your question is yes. Fibromyalgia is a real condition that affects some four million Americans. It's a chronic pain syndrome that experts believe may be caused by a malfunctioning nervous system. Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brains of people with fibromyalgia have found abnormalities in the part of the brain that processes pain signals from the body. It appears that this part of the brain is essentially boosting the intensity of normal pain signals, potentially causing the body to feel pain without a physical cause. People with fibromyalgia experience muscular pain and tenderness throughout their body along with other symptoms, including extreme fatigue, mood disturbances (such as anxiety and depression), headaches, and problems with sleep and memory. More »

Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature

 Image: © Sidekick/Getty Images Looking for a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and maybe even improve your memory? Take a walk in the woods. "Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement," says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use." (Locked) More »

Tuning in: How music may affect your heart

 Image: © shironosov/Getty Images Whether you prefer Stravinsky's symphonies or the Beatles' ballads, you probably listen mostly because you simply like how they sound. You might not realize that music engages not only your auditory system but many other parts of your brain as well, including areas responsible for movement, language, attention, memory, and emotion. "There is no other stimulus on earth that simultaneously engages our brains as widely as music does," says Brian Harris, certified neurologic music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. This global activation happens whether you listen to music, play an instrument, or sing — even informally in the car or the shower, he says. And it helps to explain how and why music therapy works (see "Singing — and striding — stroke survivors"). More »

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis

Any kind of cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. But one part of the cancer process that often gets pushed aside is the psychological aspect of how to manage the stress, anxiety, and depression that come with it. No matter a person’s prognosis, there are ways to address the emotional aspects of dealing with cancer. (Locked) More »

How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects

 Image: © kali9/Getty Images Most men don't face much personal loss early in their lives. Yet, once they reach a certain age, they will encounter the experience of losing someone important to them — a spouse, a friend, a relative — and the feelings of grief that often follow. "Grief is a natural response to loss, but it is something that men are not prepared for, and they often struggle to understand how it can affect their lives," says Dr. Eric Bui, associate director for research at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Complicated Grief Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. More »

When worry becomes a problem

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) constantly anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about issues like health, money, and family even when there is no apparent reason for concern. Left alone to manifest, GAD can lead to serious health problems, like high blood pressure, depression, and unhealthy behavior like excessive drinking. More »

Anxiety and heart disease: A complex connection

Small amounts of anxiety can spur people to take better care of themselves. But excessive worrying may signal an anxiety disorder, which may increase a person’s risk for heart disease. One common form is generalized anxiety disorder, which is characterized by at least six months of excessive worrying or feeling anxious about several events or activities almost every day. Other people have panic disorder, which is marked by bouts of intense anxiety (panic attacks) that may cause chest pain that is mistaken for a heart attack. Both therapy and medications can effectively treat anxiety disorders. (Locked) More »