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Your anxiety questions, answered by experts

It may feel like excessive worry or heightened fear, or it might manifest in physical symptoms like a racing heart or “knots” in your stomach.

Anxiety is something anyone can experience, but for millions of Americans, it can turn into a mental health disorder that impacts your daily life.

“Anxiety can be both good or bad — it’s a spectrum, like most emotions,” says Dr. Jessica Gomez, executive director and clinical psychologist at Momentous Institute, a youth mental health organization. “But people who suffer from anxiety, they’ll notice it starts to really impact their daily living and their activities and just overall ability to live a productive life.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1% of adults in the U.S. experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. And every year, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates, which accounts for about 19% of the U.S. population.

To better understand anxiety, we asked experts some of your most-searched questions:

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety typically arises from a combination of genetics and the environment people live in.

“There’s a heritability and genetic predisposition to both anxiety and depression,” explains Dr. Srijan Sen, director of the Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg and Family Depression Center, adding that stress in our environment from work or other events can also trigger episodes.

Evolutionarily, anxiety grew out of understandable responses to dangerous stimuli, like the reaction to the threat of a wild animal attack, for example.

“When it becomes a problem is when it becomes chronic and out of proportion to what the what the stimulus is,” Sen says. “And that seems to be happening more and more in the current society.”

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Can anxiety cause dizziness, nausea and other symptoms?

People with anxiety can experience a range of symptoms, Gomez says, including both mental ones — like excessive worry — and physical symptoms, which can include:

SweatingTachycardia (higher than normal heart rate)Shaking or tremblingGastrointestinal problems

“It can really be a range, and it just depends on the age and how long the person has been suffering with anxiety,” Gomez says.

It can also depend on what type of anxiety disorder someone is dealing with. A panic disorder, for example, where people experience panic attacks, are particularly characterized by certain physical symptoms, says clinical psychologist Dr. Aron Tendler.

“Panic attacks are extreme expressions of racing heart, shortness of breath, feelings of nausea and sometimes people think that they’re going crazy,” he says.

While these can certainly be symptoms of anxiety, Sen says they could also be symptoms of other systemic disorders, so it’s important to understand the context when they come on and is a sign to get professionally evaluated.

Do I have anxiety?

Anyone can feel anxious sometimes — think of nerves before a big presentation — but determining if you have an anxiety disorder takes a medical diagnosis.

“There is that distinction. It’s mostly a matter of degree of how strong and severe the symptoms are — how persistent they are and if they’re affecting your normal level of functioning,” Sen says. “It’s when it really is affecting your life and this persistence that people need to get help.”

While it can be easy to search symptoms on the internet and attempt to self-diagnose, an actual diagnosis has to come from a medical professional.

“As a psychologist, I’m going to ask, how is it impacting your life? What has been the duration of the symptoms? The onset of the symptoms?” Gomez explains of an evaluation. “We do a very thorough clinical interview and background history. It’s not just something you diagnose in two minutes.”

How to calm anxiety

There are treatment options for anxiety, including mindfulness practices, therapies and medications.

No matter what’s causing it, seeking help from a professional can give you specific strategies or interventions to deal with anxiety, Gomez explains.

“It might look different for everyone, but there are a lot of solutions and coping skills that can be learned to manage anxiety. And I say the word ‘manage’ because that’s really what it is,” she says. “It’s about learning that techniques to manage anxiety so it doesn’t snowball on becomes bigger.”

In addition to treatment, Sen hopes prevention will become a larger part of the conversation around both anxiety and depression.

“The more we can to prevent them the better and a lot of that is common sense things but it’s remarkable how effective they are,” he says, includinggood sleep hygiene, staying physically and socially active and maintaining a good work-life balance.

How to help someone with anxiety

If you notice a loved one may be dealing with anxiety, experts say there are things you can do to help.

The first step? Reaching out.

“Oftentimes just reaching out in a non-judgmental way can have incredible effects and much more,” Sen suggests. “Just letting people know that you’re there for them.”

The next step is to let them guide.

“Listening to people and offering them help in whatever the way they need” can also be helpful, he says.

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