Anxiety and Worry

We all experience some normal feelings of anxiety and worry throughout our lifetime. Feeling butterflies in your stomach before giving a presentation, feeling on edge after a close call while driving, or feeling worry while waiting up late for a child who was supposed to be home an hour ago are all appropriate times to experience anxiety; not ongoing, but situational.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when the sense of worry becomes persistent and more intense, causing a disruption in everyday life. They are the most common mental health disorder in the United States with an estimated 18% of adults suffering from the disorder. Common symptoms of anxiety include nervousness, restlessness, tension, increased heart rate, trouble concentrating, sense of impending danger or doom, difficulty controlling worry and avoiding things that may trigger anxiety. In many situations, the individual realizes that their fear is excessive or unreasonable. And yet, the anxiety persists. It can become a crippling illness if left untreated or unaddressed.


An official diagnosis of an anxiety disorder will come from your medical provider or your therapist after an assessment is completed. The current guidelines for a diagnosis come from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Common anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Excessive anxiety and worry that occurs more days than not for at least six months. Other symptoms may include restlessness, easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbance.

Social Anxiety Disorder: A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the individual has a fear of acting in a way to be embarrassed or humiliated. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance of the anxiety provoking situations lasts longer than 6 months.

Panic Disorder: Panic attacks are an intense sense of fear or terror that can include an accelerated heartbeat, shortness of breath, sense of feeling cold or hot, trembling or a fear of dying. Many will mistakenly go to the emergency room for fear of a heart attack. The disorder then ensues when the individual worries about another panic attack, causing dysfunction in daily living due to avoidance of situations and/or people.

Phobias: Excessive and persistent fear of an object, activity or situation that is generally not harmful. Individuals will go to excessive lengths to avoid the distress caused by these feared objects, activities or situations.

The trouble with anxiety is that the more one avoids the feared situations, the more the anxiety grows. For example, the impending sense of doom that an individual who has to give a speech in school only grows stronger as the time goes on. Every time the teacher asks for another volunteer, or as they go in order around the room, the worry and dread grow. Avoiding only confirms the thought of “I can’t.” Or maybe one suffering from general anxiety disorder continues to pass up opportunities for growth at work due to worry about the increased responsibility and losing the sense of safety of the predictability of their current position. Or maybe one has a phobia of flying, robbing them of the ease of accessing their family across country. Anxiety disorders can truly wreak havoc in the day to day living of individuals, but it is also very treatable.


Psychotherapy: Also called therapy or counseling. Can include different modalities, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Behavioral/Exposure Therapy are common forms used to address anxiety disorders.

Medication: Although your primary care provider can prescribe medication to treat anxiety, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health medications. Please note that some commonly prescribed medications that treat anxiety can become addictive.

Other strategies such as stress management, meditation, mindfulness, and exercise can also be very helpful.

Action Steps

If you are thinking that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, I want to give you some steps to take to help you to begin to address those thoughts and feelings.

1. Make an appointment to see a primary care physician or nurse practitioner. If you are too anxious to call to make an appointment, ask a family member or friend to call for you.
2. Find a therapist who works with individuals with anxiety. Contact me, contact your insurance company to see a list of in-network providers or utilize to find a therapist in your area.
3. Let a friend or loved one know how you are feeling. You would be surprised how many people you know are also dealing with an anxiety disorder.
4. Practice mindfulness or meditation. Don’t know where to start? Try the Headspace or Calm apps.
5. Cut down on caffeine! The extra cup every day may be increasing your restlessness and worry.

It is important for you to remember that anxiety is common and treatable. Taking small steps of action can help you to regain control and to no longer live with intense worry.

Jonathan Ecker, LCSW is a therapist who treats anxiety in Oak Park, IL. Please contact me with any questions or if you are interested in pursuing therapy.

1103 Westgate Suite 205
Oak Park, IL 60301
(773) 710-0062

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