What are anxiety disorders?
Feeling anxious is a normal reaction to stress, and everyone feels anxious from time to time. Sometimes anxiety can even be positive — when it helps motivate you to address a tense situation at work, study harder for an exam, prepare for a new situation, or stay focused on an important task. In general, anxiety helps people cope and doesn't last for very long. But when anxiety becomes excessive, is not appropriate for the situation, or lasts a long time, it can get in the way of your everyday activities and may interfere with how you get along with others.
Some Veterans develop severe anxiety following a trauma or a life-threatening experience. For others, stressful life events — such as the transition from military to civilian life or difficult work situations — can cause anxiety disorders.
“Honestly, I kind of liked the fact that I was hyper-aware after I got back from my deployment. I figured that it was a good thing, since it helped keep me alive over there. But as time went by, I noticed it was just too much for my life here. It prevented me from enjoying even the simplest activities.”
There are several types of anxiety disorders with a variety of symptoms. Some people have repeated short-term episodes of intense fear called panic attacks, while others have exaggerated worry, tension, and fear most of the time or in everyday social situations. Sometimes, this anxiety can cause physical symptoms like a pounding heart, trouble breathing, trembling, sweating, or being easily startled. Other times, anxiety disorders can include ongoing, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts or changes in behavior.
Common anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. No matter the condition you may have, it is important to know that most people who have an anxiety disorder can improve their symptoms through connecting with professional care.
What are the signs of anxiety disorders?
A wide variety of symptoms may be signs of an anxiety disorder, some of which may be physical symptoms:
- Pounding or racing heart
- Sweating or cold, clammy hands
- Feeling jumpy or restless
- Trembling, twitching, or shaking
- Having a hard time catching your breath
- Feeling a fullness in the throat or chest
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Having stomachaches or nausea
- Having trouble falling asleep or getting a good night’s rest
You might also have symptoms that impact your emotions, thoughts, or behavior, like:
- Feeling restless
- Feeling on edge or keyed up
- Being angry or irritable
- Worrying a lot about everyday decisions
- Fearing that something bad is going to happen
- Becoming easily distracted
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling like your mind goes blank
- Finding it hard to do your work or normal activities
- Focusing on what isn't going well or what could go wring
- Frequently avoiding certain places or things
- Drinking or using drugs to numb your feelings
What are the treatments for anxiety disorders?
There are a number of effective treatments for anxiety disorders that can help you cope with these symptoms and greatly improve your quality of life. Many Veterans have found effective ways to deal with their feelings of anxiety.
Treatments for anxiety disorders can involve counseling, medication, or a combination of these two. Counseling can help you learn new ways of thinking, practice positive behaviors, and take active steps to move beyond your symptoms. Medications work in different ways to affect the chemicals in your brain that may be associated with anxiety disorders.
“My anxiety didn’t go away overnight, but it certainly got easier for me to deal with as I continued my treatment.”
Anxiety disorders often occur along with other mental or physical conditions, including depression or alcohol or drug problems, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In some cases, it will be important to treat other problems in order to get the full benefits of anxiety disorder treatment. You may need to work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment before finding the best one for your symptoms.
In addition to getting treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help relieve anxiety symptoms. Try to work these into your daily routine:
- Walk, jog, or work out. Physical activity can improve your mood and help you sleep better.
- Eat healthy meals regularly. Good nutrition helps your body and your mind.
- Sleep well. Getting enough quality sleep can help you feel better during the day.
- Practice relaxation techniques. A shower, deep breathing exercises, or time in a quiet place to collect your thoughts can help relieve stress and make you feel more at ease.
- Get involved. Volunteer, join a club, or take up a hobby to share your strengths and wisdom with others.
What can I do if I think I have an anxiety disorder?
Your close friends and family may be the first to notice that you’re having a tough time. Turn to them when you are ready to talk. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that is right for you. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will begin to feel better.
“Sometimes the worst thing was not knowing if my anxiety was normal, or something that I should get treatment for. I used an online tool to find out and it helped a lot.”
You can also explore in-depth information and hear from Veterans and other members of the military who have dealt with anxiety disorders.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for anxiety disorders and find solutions that improve their lives. It can be difficult to handle anxiety symptoms on your own and they can get worse if not addressed, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. You can also consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage an anxiety disorder even without direct experience with Veterans.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious adviser
Explore these resources for more information about anxiety disorders among Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to anxiety disorders, such as feeling on edge, social withdrawal and isolation , trouble sleeping, relationship problems, preparing for deployment, and posttraumatic stress.
Take an anonymous and confidential online assessment to evaluate the symptoms you are experiencing and hear from other Veterans and Service members dealing with similar issues.
Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges
Moving Forward is a free online educational and life-coaching program that teaches problem-solving skills to help you better handle life’s challenges. While it’s designed to be especially helpful for Veterans, Service members, and their families, Moving Forward teaches skills that can be useful to anyone with stressful problems.
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.