Understanding Chronic Anxiety: A – Z Guide to Symptoms and Management


Ever lay awake at night, your mind spinning with uncontrollable thoughts? Or do you regularly battle situations filled with fear, persistent worry, or panic? If so, it’s possible you’re experiencing chronic anxiety. More than just “feeling stressed,” chronic anxiety is a serious and lasting condition often impacting every aspect of life. Let’s take a deeper look.

Chronic anxiety differs from typical day-to-day worries—it’s like an unwelcome guest that overstays their welcome, overshadowing your life constantly. Rather than being linked to one specific cause or event, it takes root and persists over time. It could have begun in childhood or at a later stage–with symptoms that may change and evolve throughout your lifetime. Thus, the experience of chronic anxiety isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it’s far from a fleeting emotion.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand how overwhelming it can be. While such a debilitating condition might seem insurmountable, don’t despair. Multiple approaches to manage and treat chronic anxiety are available, providing hope and relief to those struggling.

Snapshot of Chronic Anxiety:
What Is It? Chronic anxiety refers to a prolonged and enduring state of anxiety. It’s not tied to a specific situation and may last for six months or more.
Symptoms: It manifests in both psychological symptoms such as excessive worry and highly anxious thoughts, and physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and muscle tension.
Impacts: Chronic anxiety can interfere with daily activities, relationships, and overall quality of life.
Causes: Its origins often stem from a combination of factors including genetic predisposition, traumatic experiences, and certain personality traits.
Management: Therapy (particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy), medication, and self-help techniques serve as significant tools to manage and alleviate chronic anxiety symptoms.

In the following section, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the nature of chronic anxiety, its implications, and the path towards management and treatment.

Infographic of Chronic Anxiety - chronic anxiety infographic pillar-5-steps

Understanding the Nature of Chronic Anxiety

What is Chronic Anxiety?

Chronic anxiety isn’t just an occasional worry or fear; it’s a long-term, persistent state of anxiety that can significantly impair your daily life. It’s like having a constant, unwelcome guest in your mind that doesn’t know when to leave. As Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, describes it, “Chronic anxiety is a form of anxiety that persists for a very long time. Treatment can make it better but it may not go away completely.” This anxiety can manifest in various ways, depending on the individual and their specific type of anxiety disorder.

How Chronic Anxiety Differs from Normal Anxiety

It’s important to differentiate between normal anxiety and chronic anxiety. Everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time—it’s a natural response to stress or potential dangers. This type of anxiety is usually temporary and subsides once the stressful situation is over.

However, chronic anxiety is more persistent and pervasive. It’s like a shadow that follows you around, casting a cloud over your daily activities. It’s anxiety that doesn’t go away even when there’s no immediate stressor or threat present. Chronic anxiety can cause distress and hinder your ability to function at home, work, and in social situations.

The Role of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in Chronic Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) often plays a significant role in chronic anxiety. As our expert, Shaelene Lauriano Kite, explains on our Generalized Anxiety Disorder page, GAD is characterized by excessive worry and fear about everyday situations. People with GAD often find it hard to control their worry and may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.

The persistent and excessive worry associated with GAD can make it a significant contributor to chronic anxiety. However, chronic anxiety can also stem from other anxiety disorders, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).

Understanding the nature of chronic anxiety is the first step towards managing it effectively. It’s essential to know that while chronic anxiety can be challenging and exhausting, it’s not insurmountable. There are multiple treatment options and coping strategies available, which we will explore in later sections of this guide.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Chronic Anxiety

Chronic anxiety manifests itself in various ways, both psychologically and physically. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial in seeking help and starting the journey towards better mental health.

Psychological Symptoms: Excessive Worry, Fear, and Obsessive Thoughts

People with chronic anxiety often experience persistent and excessive worry or fear. This worry can be about different aspects of life, such as work, family, health, or future events. The worry might seem unwarranted or out of proportion to the situation at hand.

Obsessive thoughts are another common symptom of chronic anxiety. These thoughts are repetitive and intrusive, making it hard to focus on anything else. Difficulty controlling these thoughts is a significant indicator of chronic anxiety.

Physical Symptoms: Rapid Heartbeat, Shortness of Breath, and Muscle Tension

Chronic anxiety is not just a mental health issue—it also manifests physically. Common physical symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and muscle tension, which can often lead to physical discomfort or pain, such as headaches or stomach pain. Other physical symptoms can include dry mouth, nausea, and sleep disturbances, which can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety and tension.

The Impact of Chronic Anxiety on Daily Life

The symptoms of chronic anxiety can significantly affect daily life, impacting one’s ability to function at home, work, or in social settings. It can also lead to irritability and restlessness, making relaxation difficult. Over time, the persistent worry, fear, and physical discomfort can lead to tiredness and fatigue.

Chronic anxiety can also change over time. Sometimes, symptoms may be more physical, whereas at other times, they may be more psychological. The symptoms may also vary depending on the exact type of anxiety disorder a person has.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand the impact chronic anxiety can have on your life. We’re here to help you recognize these symptoms and provide you with the necessary tools to manage them effectively. In the following sections, we’ll explore the causes and risk factors of chronic anxiety, as well as treatment options and coping strategies.

Remember that you’re not alone in this journey. We’re here to help you navigate through it. Chronic anxiety might feel overwhelming, but with the right support and resources, you can regain control of your life.

Causes and Risk Factors of Chronic Anxiety

Understanding the root causes of chronic anxiety can help in managing it effectively. Chronic anxiety often stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and personality factors.

Genetic Factors and Family History

Genetic factors often play a role in causing anxiety. Research shows that if a biological relative has anxiety, a person is more likely to suffer from it as well. However, a stable and calming family environment can help offset this genetic risk. Genetics is not destiny, and having a family history of anxiety doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop chronic anxiety.

Environmental Factors and Traumatic Experiences

Stressful events and negative environmental factors can also contribute to the development of chronic anxiety. This may include experiences of trauma, discrimination, political turmoil, or a global crisis like a pandemic. In fact, trauma-driven anxiety is treated differently from other types of anxiety, indicating the significant role environment plays in shaping our mental health.

Personality Traits and Chronic Health Conditions

Certain personality traits may increase the likelihood of experiencing chronic anxiety. For instance, people who were shy as children, or those who felt nervous or distressed in new situations, may be more prone to anxiety as adults. Chronic medical illnesses or other mental health disorders may also increase the risk.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand that every individual is unique, and so are the causes and triggers of their anxiety. We are committed to helping you understand the root of your chronic anxiety and providing tailored treatment options that best suit your needs.

In the next section, we will discuss the diagnosis and treatment options for chronic anxiety. Understanding your symptoms is the first step toward managing them effectively.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Chronic Anxiety

The Process of Diagnosing Chronic Anxiety

Getting a diagnosis for chronic anxiety is a critical step in the treatment process. This typically involves a comprehensive clinical interview with a healthcare provider who will ask about your symptoms, the impact of anxiety on your life, and your personal and family history of mental health issues. Your healthcare provider may also use a questionnaire to better understand your symptoms. A health checkup with bloodwork may be conducted to look for other medical issues that can mimic anxiety, such as thyroid problems.

At DBT of South Jersey, we have a team of licensed professionals who can diagnose chronic anxiety. We emphasize the importance of seeking help as soon as possible if you suspect you or a loved one have chronic anxiety.

Therapy as a Treatment Option: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Therapy is one of the most common approaches to treat chronic anxiety. It can help manage anxious thoughts and reduce panic. There are several forms of therapy that can address chronic anxiety, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

CBT focuses on confronting the fears underlying an anxiety disorder to help people engage in activities they have been avoiding. It’s sometimes used along with relaxation exercises.

DBT, on the other hand, combines standard DBT with prolonged exposure to reduce or eliminate PTSD symptoms and aims to change deeply ingrained beliefs associated with trauma. It has shown to be highly effective, with studies indicating upwards of 80% of participants no longer meeting the criteria for PTSD post-treatment.

Here at DBT of South Jersey, we offer DBT-Prolonged Exposure therapy for clients who have endured multiple traumas and are struggling with complex PTSD.

Medication as a Treatment Option: Antidepressants and Anti-Anxiety Medications

In some cases, medication may be a suitable treatment option. Antidepressants are used to treat mood disorders like depression, but they can also be helpful for some anxiety disorders. Anti-anxiety medications, known as anxiolytics, can help treat anxiety. However, they can be addictive, so they are only used in certain situations when nothing else is helping.

Medication does not cure anxiety disorders but can help relieve symptoms. The most common classes of medications used to combat anxiety disorders are antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications (such as benzodiazepines), and beta-blockers.

Choosing the right medication should be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider who can prescribe medication for anxiety. At DBT of South Jersey, we work closely with our clients to determine the best course of treatment, whether it’s therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

In the next section, we will discuss coping strategies and self-help techniques for managing chronic anxiety. By integrating these strategies into your daily life, you can gain control over your anxiety and live a more balanced life.

Coping Strategies and Self-Help Techniques for Managing Chronic Anxiety

After understanding the nature and treatment options of chronic anxiety, it’s equally important to learn about various coping strategies and self-help techniques. These will aid in managing the daily challenges that come with chronic anxiety and enhance the effectiveness of treatment.

Creating Stability in Living Situations and Relationships

One of the key aspects of coping with chronic anxiety is creating a stable living environment and maintaining healthy relationships. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can greatly reduce your anxiety levels. Prioritize time with those who make you feel calm and eliminate toxic relationships from your life. Establishing a routine can also bring a sense of stability and control, known to decrease anxiety levels.

Recognizing and Managing Irrational Thoughts

Another significant step in managing chronic anxiety is to recognize when your thoughts are irrational. Understanding that anxious thoughts aren’t always based on reality can help limit their impact. This skill can take some time to develop, but with practice, you can learn to manage your thoughts effectively.

Developing Coping Methods: Exercise, Mindfulness, and Meditation

Different levels of anxiety may require different coping skills. For example, high anxiety might respond better to intense physical exercise, while medium-level anxiety might be better managed through mindfulness or meditation. Yoga, in particular, can be a wonderful first step for those experiencing difficulty with developing a meditation practice.

Regular exercise is not just beneficial for physical health but also has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood. Similarly, mindfulness and meditation practices can help reduce anxiety by bringing your attention back to the present and preventing worrying thoughts.

The Role of Support Groups in Managing Chronic Anxiety

Support groups can be incredibly beneficial for managing chronic anxiety. Sharing your experiences and hearing others’ stories can make you feel less alone. It can also provide practical advice on coping with specific situations. At DBT of South Jersey, we provide private classes, therapy sessions, and support groups where individuals can connect and learn from each other’s experiences.

In conclusion, while chronic anxiety can be challenging to manage, it’s important to remember that there are several effective coping strategies and self-help techniques available. Incorporating these strategies into your daily life, along with proper treatment, can help you manage your symptoms and lead a more balanced life. It’s okay to seek help and take care of your mental health.

Conclusion: Living with Chronic Anxiety and Seeking Help

Living with chronic anxiety can be a significant challenge. The constant feelings of worry, fear, restlessness, and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath can interfere with daily activities and overall quality of life. But it’s crucial to remember that chronic anxiety is manageable with the right help and support.

At DBT of South Jersey, we understand the struggles of living with chronic anxiety and we’re committed to helping our clients manage their symptoms and improve their lives. Our treatment approach combines techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy to help individuals understand the root causes of their anxiety and develop effective coping strategies.

In addition to professional treatment, self-help techniques can also play a vital role in managing chronic anxiety. Creating stability in your living situation and relationships, recognizing and managing irrational thoughts, and practicing mindfulness, meditation, and regular exercise are all strategies that can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Support groups can provide a sense of community and shared understanding that can be incredibly beneficial for individuals living with chronic anxiety. At DBT of South Jersey, we offer a variety of group therapy options where individuals can share their experiences, learn from others, and gain additional coping skills.

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a step towards regaining control of your life. Chronic anxiety can be overwhelming, but with the right support and resources, it’s possible to lead a fulfilling and balanced life.

For more information on our services and how we can help, please visit our DBT individual therapy and couples and family therapy pages.

Coping with Chronic Anxiety - chronic anxiety


DBT of South Jersey media

Stay In The DBT SJ Loop!

Get all our updates, free events and workshops and DBT Tips in one beautifully curated place by subscribing to our email list!

We only send about once a month, so we don’t overwhelm your inbox! 😉

Welcome to DBT of South Jersey – we’re glad you’re here.

Subscription Form