What is Chronic Anxiety?

Chronic anxiety is a term used to describe a condition in which anxiety is strong and withstanding. Chronic anxiety will affect a person’s life on a consistent basis. While a person with chronic anxiety cannot be diagnosed with ‘chronic anxiety’ it is a term that is used to explain the experience of a person’s anxiety diagnosis. For example, a person with generalized anxiety disorder is likely to have chronic anxiety because generalized anxiety is anxiety that affects a person on a consistent basis.

Chronic anxiety can be found with many mental health disorders, like

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Symptoms of Chronic Anxiety

A person with chronic anxiety is likely to be in a constant state of fear or worry that affects how he or she views himself or herself and the world. Most people with chronic anxiety struggle with being happy or content with his or her life. Those with chronic anxiety will experience many symptoms like:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Fearfulness
  • Irrational concerns
  • Situational anxiety and worrying
  • Fixating on worst-case scenarios, or expecting the worst
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Preoccupation with checking things like appliances or loved ones
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia or sleep issues
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypochondria or concerns about being ill
  • Superstitions, rituals, or compulsions

What Causes Chronic Anxiety?

Everyone’s reasons and issues that cause chronic anxiety are different. Each person lives a different life, has different circumstances, and is affected by their chronic anxiety differently. However, there have been common factors that cause chronic anxiety. Such common factors include:

  • Diagnosis of other mental health disorders. As previously discussed, chronic anxiety can be found in several different mental health diagnoses. Most mental health diagnoses cause anxiety, and depending on the severity of the condition there will be varying degrees of chronic anxiety.
  • Genetics. Struggles with anxiety often have a hereditary or genetic component. This means that you likely have someone in your family who also suffers from chronic anxiety if you suffer from chronic anxiety yourself. This is most often found in a parent, grandparent, or sibling.
  • Environment. Environments can have a major impact on chronic anxiety. For example, some people adapt well to rural areas, while others prefer urban areas. Having a lot of activity or stress in your space can also cause chronic anxiety.
  • Stress tolerance. It is important to develop healthy stress management skills in life. If you do not possess strong stress management skills then your ability to tolerate and handle stress will be negatively impacted. This will result in chronic anxiety.
  • Upbringing. Upbringing plays a key role in the onset of chronic anxiety. You learn the most about yourself and the world when you are a child. This is why it is important to consider that your upbringing contributes to chronic anxiety. The following conditions during childhood can result in chronic anxiety:
    • Growing up in a chaotic environment. If you lived in an unstable or chaotic environment, perhaps with a lot of moving around or arguing between parents, children, and other adults, you are more likely to develop chronic anxiety than a person who did not live through such circumstances.
    • Being abused as a child. Physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse all contribute to the onset of chronic anxiety. Being abused as a child prevents the child from feeling secure and vulnerable in his or her environment. The lack of security that the child feels results in lack of confidence, low self-image, and a chronic state of worry and fear. This will carry on through adulthood if it is not addressed.
    • Being bullied as a child. As a child peer interactions contribute to how a child views who he or she is in relation to others. If he or she is teased, bullied, or assaulted while in school it will cause him or her to develop poor confidence and low self-esteem.
    • Traumatic event. Living through a traumatic event, like a loved one dying, experiencing something troubling or emotionally damaging, or feeling responsible for something that is out of his or her control (parent’s divorce, an accident in the home, etc.), will drastically increase the likelihood of that child experiencing chronic anxiety. Traumatic events stick with children. They cause people to develop a perception of where they fit in the world that is warped and not reflective of reality. This will result in chronic anxiety, as the person does not understand his or her own responsibility and control they have over their lives and the world around them.

How People are Affected by Chronic Anxiety

Chronic anxiety is difficult to live with because it affects the way you are able to function in the world. Often chronic anxiety will prevent you from feeling calm, happy and content with your life, and will leave you feeling on edge and unfulfilled because you are not able to relax. The following are common struggles that people with chronic anxiety go through:

  • Having difficulty relating to others. People with chronic anxiety often struggle with relating to others. They will feel different from the people around them, and often feel as though something is wrong with them. When interacting with others, people with chronic anxiety may face negative thoughts that lead to embarrassment, paranoia, and concern about how they are seen by the people around them. They also may internalize insecurities by comparing themselves to their peers, feeling that they are strange or lack qualities that others have that help them live happily.
  • Struggling with keeping up with responsibilities. Chronic anxiety causes a great deal of stress and strain on the body and mind. The stress it causes makes it difficult to keep up with things like work, chores at home, personal care and relationships. It can also cause forgetfulness and preoccupation with perfection, which prevents the affected person from being able to complete a task.
  • Finding simple daily events difficult to manage or cope with. People with chronic anxiety are often easily overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can affect a person’s ability to relax and enjoy the moment. This makes things like socializing, traveling, and commuting difficult for someone with chronic anxiety to do.
  • Misunderstanding innocuous situations as a threat to wellbeing. A major component of chronic anxiety is excessive worrying. With excessive worrying comes the tendency to overestimate events and situations. The overestimating causes an anxious person to feel that some part of their health or wellbeing is compromised.
  • Misunderstanding the intentions of others. People who are chronically anxious tend to overanalyze things like interactions with or the intentions of others. This is especially prevalent with people with social anxiety. People who suffer from chronic anxiety often draw negative conclusions about people’s intentions with their words or actions. Harmless sentiments may be mistaken for passive-aggressive remarks or may be confused with a personal attack or negative comment. This may cause the person who is chronically anxious to get defensive.
  • Internalizing issues and situations that are out of the control of the affected person. People with chronic anxiety are at risk for internalizing things that go wrong. This means they blame themselves when something does not work out as expected and negatively impacts them or others. In reality, much of what chronically anxious people internalize is out of their own control, and simply is the result of circumstances. However, in a chronically anxious mind, the information is distorted to the point in which the anxious person assumes he or she is responsible for the negative outcome in question.

How to Overcome Chronic Anxiety - Coping Methods

Chronic anxiety is difficult to live with on a daily basis, but fortunately there are ways to ease the stress of chronic anxiety. Overcoming chronic anxiety involves learning how to live with your symptoms while making lifestyle modifications to reduce the intensity of those symptoms. Such lifestyle changes include:

  • Modifying your diet. Chronic anxiety can be partially fueled by an improper diet. Foods that are high in fat and sugar are foods that will aggravate anxiety. Also, it is important to limit the amount of caffeine you consume, as the energy you get from the caffeine will make anxiety feel more intense.
  • Exercise regiment. Be sure to keep up with a strict exercise schedule. Chronic anxiety symptoms are manifested through anxious energy. If you are able to burn at least some of the energy consumed by anxiety then your symptoms will be less intense. It is also a good idea to exercise because exercise causes the brain to release endorphins, which give a calming sensation and lifts spirits.
  • Sleep. It is very important to get a good night’s sleep. A lack of sleep or a restless sleep will prevent the body from being able to rest and rejuvenate. This will exhaust the body and mind. It will cause emotions to take over as you have less energy to reason with negative thoughts.
  • Reduce stress in life. It is sometimes easier said than done, but if you are able to release some of the stress you have in your day-to-day life you will begin to feel better. This could include purging your home of unneeded items or taking on fewer responsibilities outside of work, home and self-care.
  • Meditate. Meditation helps a great deal with managing chronic anxiety. Practicing meditation and deep breathing exercises help the mind relax by allowing it to rest and providing it with the oxygen it needs to prevent the muscles of the body from tensing.
  • Create a mantra. A mantra is a term used to describe a phrase that you can repeat to yourself to remind yourself that you are well. This is an exercise used in different meditation practices because it helps keep the mind and nerves at ease in moments of anxiety. Some examples of a mantra are: “I’ve been through worse”, “I will be stronger for this”, and “I am safe, I am well, I am able”. It is recommended that you create your own mantra that relates to your needs and struggles in life. You know your struggles better than anyone, so it is important that your mantra resonates with you.

Getting Help 

Along with lifestyle changes and meditation practices there are also professional resources available. Mental health professionals will be able to help you ease your symptoms of chronic anxiety through different therapeutic approaches. Such professional intervention includes:

  • Private therapy. Private therapy is helpful with managing chronic anxiety because it helps you sort out what is bothering you and reach the issues that are deeper down than the daily struggles people face. There are different forms of therapy that work well with managing chronic anxiety, including:
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- Helps you understand how your thoughts, emotions, and behavior all influence one another.
    • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)- Helps you get in tune with your emotions and how they affect your thinking and behavior while incorporating mindfulness techniques to reduce anxiety and keep an objective outlook on the events that transpire in your life.
  • Group therapy. Group therapy is also helpful for those suffering from chronic anxiety. While group therapy is not for everyone, many feel that having the peer support that comes from a group is helpful because it shows that people suffer from similar struggles as you. It also helps because you can learn different ways to manage your anxiety from your peers.
  • Medication. In some cases of chronic anxiety a mental health professional may see it fit to treat your symptoms with medication. Medication used to treat anxiety has been found effective when used in conjunction with in-person individual therapy. It is important that while you are taking medication you also go to therapy to learn the skills you need to manage the anxiety on your own. That is because medication will treat the symptoms, but will not cure the anxiety.