Severe Anxiety - What It's Like & How To Cope

Anxiety is a disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life. Anxiety will impact each decision, responsibility, and desire that person possesses. Each person experiences anxiety differently and at different severities. Severe anxiety has a strong negative impact on a person and will likely prevent the person from being able to enjoy many aspects of his or her life.

How Severe Anxiety Affects Day-to-Day Life

Having severe anxiety affects many different areas of a person’s life. Anxiety affects the way we interpret situations, process information and emotions, and make decisions or conclusions about different situations. A person’s behaviors and attitudes are negatively impacted because of the way his or her mind and thoughts are affected by severe anxiety.


People with severe anxiety tend to have difficulty making and maintaining relationships. For example, a person with a social phobia may have trouble opening up to a person, or may be too overwhelmed with leaving their home or deviating from their normal schedule to meet up with others. A person may also feel an overwhelming amount of pressure to present himself or herself in a way that he or she assumes is appealing to others. Because of the anxiety experienced in such situations the affected person is not able to relax and enjoy the company.

Severe anxiety also affects relationships because it can be difficult for a person who does not suffer from severe anxiety to understand what it is like to live with the symptoms. Something simple to a person without severe anxiety, like making a phone call or coping with work stress, can be very stressful or scary for someone who does suffer from anxiety. It can be confusing for someone who does not understand what it means to have severe anxiety to understand what the anxious person is feeling.

Work Performance

A symptom of severe anxiety is low self-esteem. A person with severe anxiety tends to have low confidence in himself or herself, which affects a person’s ability to perform tasks related to work. Severe anxiety creates doubts about one’s own ability to perform. This makes the stress from expectations that comes with a career can be so overwhelming that a person with anxiety has trouble with keeping up with workloads or even going to work on a consistent basis, which puts the anxious person’s employment in jeopardy.

Physical Health

Severe anxiety will take a major toll on a person’s physical and medical health. Stress tends to aggravate pre-existing medical or physical health issues. This mean that if a person who is suffering from a medical condition also suffers from severe anxiety, that anxiety will make the pre-existing medical condition worse.

An anxious person does not need to be suffering from a medical issue to have his or her health affected. Severe anxiety will also affect a person’s overall health as it takes a toll on the body and mind. The fatigue and stress that is caused by severe anxiety will result in physical health issues that cause pain or discomfort. Common physical health conditions caused by severe anxiety are:

  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Stress Rash
  • Anxiety Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches
  • Ulcers
  • Tremors or severe shaking
  • Insomnia or sleep-related issues.

Symptoms of Severe Anxiety

The more severe the anxiety experienced the more the affected person will suffer. Those with severe anxiety will find it difficult to perform even the simplest tasks. There will be symptoms like:

  • Depression. Severe anxiety drastically increases the risk of depression. The stress that is caused by severe anxiety negatively affects a person’s overall mood. The more severe the anxiety the higher the risk of depression.
  • Panic Attacks. A panic attack can happen unexpectedly and are common with severe anxiety. A panic attack feels like a person is having a heart attack. He or she will experience dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pains. These attacks typically reach a peak and decline within 10 minutes.
  • Crying Spells. It is not uncommon for a person with severe anxiety to have crying spells. They are usually preceded by tightness in the chest or a weighted feeling on the shoulders. They can be caused by a trigger or seem to come out of nowhere. Crying spells are especially prevalent in those who also suffer from depression.
  • Nightmares. People who have severe anxiety tend to suffer from nightmares. These nightmares can be alarming to the anxious person and can cause emotional distress.
  • Night Terrors. Severe anxiety can also cause night terrors. Night terrors is a condition in which a person awakes from a deep sleep in a state of panic. A person who is suffering from night terrors often does not understand why he or she is having such symptoms and cannot attribute it to nightmares or stressful dreams. The more severe the anxiety the more intense the night terrors.
  • Intrusive or Distressing Thoughts. Severe anxiety causes automatic negative thoughts that can be so intrusive that they affect a person’s ability to properly process information. Racing thoughts have the potential to negatively affect the way a person understands the world and his or her role in it.
  • Compulsive thoughts. Severe anxiety can also cause compulsive thoughts. Many people with severe anxiety report having compulsive or recurring thoughts enter their minds. These people report that the thoughts are dysfunctional and negative, and it is difficult to get rid of them. These thoughts can sometimes result in compensatory behaviors that are performed to ease the anxiety they create.
  • Intrusive or Distressing Mental Images. It is not uncommon for a person with severe anxiety to experience intrusive or distressing thoughts and mental images that they cannot seem to rid from his or her mind. Reports of such thoughts consist of disturbing images. Am example of such an intrusive thought would be the imagined murder of a loved one, a catastrophic accident, or seeing a mental image of oneself or another in extreme pain and distress. The images and thoughts alone are enough to trigger a stressful reaction.

Can Severe Anxiety Lead to Other Mental Health Disorders?

Severe anxiety is linked to the onset of other mental health disorders. The following mental health disorders are associated with experiencing severe anxiety:

  • Major Depression. A person with severe anxiety may find himself or herself in emotional despair and exhaustion, resulting in depression.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderline personality disorder causes mood swings, paranoid thoughts, and dysfunctional behavior. Severe anxiety affects most cases of borderline personality disorder.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder. A person with dependent personality disorder has an intense fear of abandonment that results in severe anxiety. In effort to prevent abandonment the affected person will engage in maladaptive behaviors like submission and oversensitivity.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A person with OCD will have obsessive thoughts, irrational fears, and compulsive compensatory behaviors that are triggered by severe anxiety.   
  • Panic Disorder. Severe anxiety is especially prevalent in panic disorders. People who suffer from panic disorder regularly experience acute anxiety or panic attacks.

What You Can Do to Prevent or Reduce Severe Anxiety

Severe anxiety is a condition that affects many people in many different ways and has the potential to negatively affect a person’s overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help treat severe anxiety and related issues. A person with severe anxiety can learn how to cope and reduce symptoms with a combination of the following intervention strategies:


Cases of severe anxiety are often treated with anti-anxiety medication. Anti-anxiety medication has been proven effective in reducing symptoms and complications. However, it will not cure anxiety, so it is important that you attend therapy to learn how to cope with symptoms in conjunction with medication treatment.

Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling is important for the treatment of severe anxiety.  Clinical social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists are all well equipped to help you learn how to cope with and manage severe anxiety. With patience and commitment, counseling can help reduce symptoms to a manageable level. Two popular forms of treatment for severe anxiety are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is helpful in managing anxiety because it teaches you how to challenge the negative and anxious thoughts that result in the symptoms. In learning how to manage racing thoughts you will learn how to control your anxiety. This will make you less reactive when confronted by a trigger.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Similar to CBT, DBT targets the maladaptive thoughts and behaviors by tapping into how the thoughts and emotions affect the prevalence of symptoms. It also incorporates mindfulness exercises that help reduce the intensity of the overall anxiety. In reducing the anxiety and emotional reactivity there will be a change in the behavior and attitude that will reduce the experience of severe anxiety.

Mindfulness Exercises

In recent years research has found that incorporating mindfulness exercises into treatment reduces symptoms experienced by the patient. Many mental health professionals now recommend and incorporate mindfulness exercises into mental health treatment. Mindfulness exercises include meditation, deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, and distress tolerance skills.