Most people experience situational anxiety that is triggered by common things such as starting a new job, coming upon an unexpected expense, or having health concerns. However, for many people, feelings of frequent and excessive anxiety, fear, terror, or panic are part of everyday situations and affect the quality of life. In fact, anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health illnesses in the United States and affected more than 40 million adults in the last year. There is help.

What is anxiety?

What causes anxiety? Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic, talks you through the symptoms, causes and treatments for anxiety.

Understanding Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Hi, I'm Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic. And I'm here to talk with you about anxiety, what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it. Whether you're looking for answers for yourself, a friend, or loved one, understanding the basics of anxiety can help you take the next step.

Anxiety is a normal part of life. We all worry about certain situations from time to time. When anxiety becomes a problem, when it starts to interfere with daily activities, causes you to avoid places or situations and makes it hard for you to enjoy life. People with anxiety disorders frequently experienced excessive and persistent worry, intense physical symptoms such as panic and uncontrollable fear about everyday situations. The good news is that anxiety disorders are common and very treatable. In fact, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health condition, affecting over 40 million adults in the US alone. While anxiety affects people of all ages and backgrounds, women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

Given that clinical anxiety may cause significant problems in day-to-day living, it can also be common that those struggling with anxiety may also struggle with other mental health conditions, including depression and substance use. Anxiety often creates a cycle of feeling, thinking, and behaving that's designed to keep you trapped. Anxiety is known as an up-regulating emotion. So physically our heart rate increases. It can be harder to breathe, we sweat, we just feel on edge and our muscles feel tight. It can be harder to think when we're anxious. We often worry about worst-case outcomes, assume that these worst-case outcomes are really likely to happen. And we doubt our ability to cope, control, or even recover from these things if they occur. When we feel physically uncomfortable and struggle with the intensity of our worries, it makes sense that our behavior also changes. When anxious, our behavior can change in two ways. Sometimes we just don't do enough of something like avoid those things that causes anxiety. Other times we may actually do too much of something like seek reassurance, constantly check things over and over again, or use substances. We don't avoid or over engage things because they make us feel good. We often do them because they make us feel less bad.

What causes anxiety? Anxiety can be caused by many things. Some people may have a family history of anxiety, certain personality traits such as shyness, or the tendency to be more physically reactive to changes in the environment. Or even health conditions such as thyroid problems may contribute to feeling anxious. Learned factors are thought to play a particularly important role in the development of anxiety disorders. Stressful events, including traumatic life events, can set up a learned pattern of worry and avoidance that maintain and worsen problems associated with anxiety across time. Symptoms of anxiety are different for everyone and it may be a sign of another health condition. So getting an accurate diagnosis is important.

Your health care provider may use a physical exam, lab tests, or a mental health evaluation to diagnose anxiety and create a treatment plan that works best for you. Several effective treatment options are also available, including lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications. Lifestyle changes can always be helpful. Getting enough sleep, physical exercise, diet, and incorporating relaxation and meditation. Perhaps the most effective treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT involves learning specific skills to better manage anxiety, such as exposure therapy in which people learn to gradually and consistently approach those things that they've been avoiding in a more predictable and controllable way. Some people may also find benefit from medications to help manage those symptoms of anxiety. Always remember that anxiety is a very treatable condition. Help is available. You don't have to let anxiety control your life and you don't have to deal with it by yourself. If you're ever hesitant to talk to a health care provider, talk to a friend or a loved one about how to get help. Living with anxiety isn't easy, but getting the support you need can help you start feeling better. Want to learn more about anxiety? Visit We're here for you.

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What is self harm?

Self-injury is often the result of an inability to cope in healthy ways with stress and emotional pain. Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic, talks through the symptoms and treatments for self-injury. If you think you may hurt yourself, please call 988 now.

Understanding Non-suicidal Self-injury: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Hi, I'm Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist with Mayo Clinic. After 25 years of meeting with patients of all ages and backgrounds, I'd like to share some information about a behavioral condition called non suicidal self-injury or self-harm.

Self-injury is doing deliberate harm to your own body, like cutting or burning yourself. And it's more common than you might think. In a recent year, self-injury lead to over 300,000 emergency room visits. Most often, self-injury is a way to use physical pain to distract from emotional pain. It may be done to try to get some sense of control or relief from intense urges or emotions, or to punish yourself or perceived faults. Even if suicide is not your intent, self-injury can be serious or even fatal. Getting help now can teach you or someone you care about much healthier ways to cope.

There are some emotional triggers for self-injury to be on the lookout for, starting with difficulties in your personal relationships. Also, if you're struggling with strong emotions or feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless. Here are some of the most common signs of self-injury to look for in someone you care about. Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, white marks, burns, scars, often in patterns. If a person constantly keeps sharp objects on hand, wears long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather to conceal their injuries. Many people self-injured themselves only a few times and then stop. But for others, it can become a repetitive and dangerous long-term behavior. The urge to engage in self-harm can be hard to control.

If you're injuring yourself even in a minor way, or if you have thoughts of harming herself, reach out for help. Any self-injury is a sign of things that need to be addressed. Even though it might feel embarrassing or difficult, start by talking to someone you know, and can trust, like a friend, healthcare provider, spiritual leader, school counselor, nurse, or teacher. Ask them to help you take the first step to get the supportive, non-judgmental care you need. If you think you may hurt yourself or even attempt suicide, called 988 now. It's free and confidential. If you're severely hurt or it's an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.

If you have a friend or family member who is self injuring, the discovery can be a bit scary or shocking. Here's some ways you can help express your concern, but be calm and avoid making accusations, threats, ultimatums. For your own child, consult their pediatrician or healthcare provider to help them get an initial evaluation or referral to a mental health professional. If it's a young friend of yours, suggest they talk to their parents, a teacher, school counselor, or trusted adult. And for an adult, it's best to gently express your concern and encourage them to seek medical and mental health treatment. Self-injury is simply too big of a problem to ignore. You don't have to deal with it by yourself. Take the next step and reach out. We wish you well.


Mayo Clinic Connect

Connect with others like you for support, practical information, and answers to your questions about mental health issues or caring for someone with mental health concerns. Ask questions and get answers.

If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, seek help. Contact your primary care provider or mental health professional. If this is an emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number. In the U.S., call, text, or chat the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

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