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Extreme Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

By A Member of the Lina Team (BA in Psychology)

Lina provides online psychiatry and medication for depression and anxiety. To learn more, visit hellolina.com.

What is considered extreme anxiety?

Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry and uneasiness, often in the face of uncertainty. Most people experience some anxiety on occasion. In fact, experiencing some anxiety can be healthy. It can alert us to possible threats and help activate our autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for producing the fight-or-flight response in dangerous situations. However, sometimes people can experience excessive amounts of anxiety even when there is no danger present or impending. In such cases, this sort of extreme anxiety can be distressing and hard to understand.

What symptoms can extreme anxiety cause?

Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways. Some people may experience an intangible sense of impending danger or doom, while others may simply feel tense and restless. Still others may become stuck on certain worries from which they have a hard time disengaging. When these symptoms occur at a high intensity, it can feel like an extreme amount of anxiety and may be difficult to manage.

Can extreme anxiety cause physical symptoms?

This kind of extreme anxiety can also express itself physiologically (i.e. physically in the body), for instance through rapid or shallow breathing, in which it can feel hard to take a deep breath. Other physiological symptoms can result from anxiety too, such as blushing and sweating. Finally, excessive anxiety may result in feelings of lightheadedness or nausea, and can also lead to trembling and shaking sensations. It is important to remember that while physical symptoms of extreme anxiety can be distressing, they are not inherently dangerous.

Can extreme anxiety cause an anxiety attack?

The term “anxiety attack” is not a well-defined, clinical term, but colloquially may refer to intense feelings of anxiety that occur at once. In contrast, “panic attacks” are a specific set of symptoms experienced as part of panic disorder. Importantly, sometimes excessive or extreme experiences of anxiety can be reinforced and strengthened by our responses to it. For example, avoiding a situation that causes us anxiety may bring relief in the moment but overtime can serve to reinforce our anxiety about that feared situation, thus worsening the anxiety.

Is there a link between extreme anxiety and depression?

Extreme anxiety and depression are some of the most prevalent psychological experiences and often do happen together. While anxiety primarily refers to symptoms revolving around worry about an anticipated situation or event, depression is primarily characterized by low mood, feelings of worthlessness, and anhedonia. However, some symptoms of anxiety are also symptoms of depression. For example, it is common in both anxiety and depression to experience restlessness. Similarly, engaging in negative repetitive thinking can be a symptom of both depression and anxiety. Thus, there is likely a shared mechanism underlying extreme anxiety and depression.

What if my extreme anxiety at night is worse?

For some people, it can be hard to disengage from worries in the absence of distraction, and anxiety may feel even more extreme at night when the lights are out and the distractions of the day have subsided. People who tend to get stuck in ruminative, or repetitive negative, thoughts, may have a harder time falling asleep and thus may be more prone to experience anxiety at night. Moreover, tiredness in general can leave us more susceptible to all sorts of emotional vulnerabilities.

Sometimes breathwork can be helpful with extreme anxiety at night. One kind of breathwork that is easy to try is triangle breathing:

1. Breathe in for 3 seconds.

2. Hold for 3 seconds.

3. Breathe out for 3 seconds.

You might also try tracing your finger along each of the three sides of a triangle as you complete each step.

What should you do if your anxiety is extreme?

Several steps can be taken to address the presence of significant anxiety. First, it is important to consider consulting a primary care provider to rule-out any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to extreme anxiety. Second, it can be useful to remember that while anxiety can of course be distressing, it is not inherently dangerous. Therefore, in the moment, it can be helpful to turn to distraction as a way of disengaging from the anxious thoughts. Sometimes entertainment, like an engaging podcast, can serve as distraction. Other forms of distraction may be more physical in nature, like exercise. While it might seem counterintuitive to go for a jog while you are feeling anxious, this form of exercise can help disrupt the extreme feelings of anxiety and may improve mood as well.

What are extreme anxiety treatments?

There are several treatments for feelings of extreme or severe anxiety, ranging from pharmacological to psychological. Medication prescribed by a psychiatrist or other physician is often used to treat extreme anxiety. More physiological approaches like yoga and meditation may be used in some cases. Finally, there are evidence-based psychological treatments that can be effective, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT draws upon a variety of empirically-supported techniques to target anxiety, such as exposure therapy and challenging negative thoughts.

What’s the best extreme anxiety medication?

A range of medications can be used to best treat extreme anxiety when prescribed by a medical professional. Some may be taken on a regular basis to manage anxiety, for instance selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), while others may be used as-needed, for example benzodiazepines. When it comes to medication and treatment, there is no one-size fits all approach. Instead, it is best to consult a primary care provider, psychiatrist, or therapist to determine the best course of action for you and your extreme anxiety. Sometimes it can take time to determine what exactly the best course of action may be. Most importantly, remember that help is available. With the right resources, you can find ways to manage and cope with even the most extreme feelings of anxiety.