Chronic Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

We all make efforts to be strong, to hide our fragility, and to tell ourselves that everything is fine when it isn't. However, we often further intensify our anxiety until it leads to chronic states of suffering.
Chronic Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Written by Valeria Sabater

Last update: 29 September, 2022

Chronic anxiety affects thousands of people around the world. It usually involves excessive worry over a sustained period, sleep disturbances, constant pressure in the chest, fears, and catastrophizing thoughts. Indeed, life in this kind of mental universe isn’t easy. However, weeks and months often go by and even years. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse, but the overall wear and tear is always immense.

You might wonder how someone can live with this reality for so long. In reality, they get used to suffering. That’s because these conditions usually appear in adolescence or early youth. Therefore, sufferers ‘get used’ to that style of thinking, to a body and mind that overreacts to problems and the daily complications of life.

“There’s nothing I can do. I’m just made this way. I have an anxious personality” is the justification that many people make. Nevertheless, they’re aware when comparing themselves with others that there’s something wrong. Because their patterns of thought both damage and weaken them and extinguish their hopes and dreams on a daily basis.

Let’s find out a little more about this condition.

Sad man sitting on the floor due to chronic anxiety

Chronic anxiety: definition, symptoms, and treatment

Going from an anxious mind to a serene mind isn’t easy. Those who suffer from chronic anxiety live for months and years in a psychological state in which worry, fear, and anguish are disproportionate. What makes it even more complex is that they try to hide it, and they pretend to others that everything is going well.

In fact, in their eagerness to demonstrate high competence and normality, they use up a tremendous amount of energy. However, their anxiety is fed back, making it even more chronic.

The psychological field is aware of the high complexity of these realities. In fact, studies like those conducted at the University of California by Dr. Alexander Bystrisky claim that although anxiety may not be as visually striking as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder, it’s just as disabling. What’s more, some people suffer from chronic anxiety for years, and it often leads to more serious conditions, such as major depression. Therefore, it’s important to respond early and prevent this kind of anguish from dragging on over time.

The symptoms of chronic anxiety

Anxiety has many forms and faces and each individual experiences it in a particular way. Works by prominent authors such as Aaron T. Beck, Albert Ellis, Paul Watzlawick, and MH Erickson have delved into this area and have proposed valuable strategies for understanding and addressing these situations a little better.

Chronic anxiety defines a psychological state that lasts beyond six months. It’s not just a time of worry or a temporary bad streak. Here are the most common symptoms and signs:

  • Excessive worry.
  • Fears and the tendency to anticipate negative events.
  • Concentration problems.
  • Difficulties in solving problems. That’s because the mind always anticipates the worst and gets blocked.
  • Feeling of anguish and guilt. A sufferer of chronic anxiety doesn’t understand why they feel that way and blame themselves for it.
  • Restlessness and agitation due to elevated levels of adrenaline.
  • Phobias.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Tachycardias, pressure in the chest.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Hot flashes or chills.
  • Lightheadedness or tingling sensations.
  • Muscle aches or pains.
  • Feelings of being on edge or under pressure.
  • Having the sensation of a lump in the throat or difficulty swallowing.

What lies behind chronic anxiety?

Chronic anxiety isn’t a clinical condition as such. It defines a state in which discomfort and anguish go beyond six months. Thus, in most cases, behind these situations lies a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This psychological entity is more common than we think, so much so that some people have been suffering since adolescence.

Here are some of the triggers for chronic anxiety:

  • Factors linked to personality. Having a tendency to feed negative thinking, not having strategies to manage worries, low self-esteem, or insecurity.
  • Genetic factors. An individual is more likely to suffer from chronic anxiety if a biological relative also has it. However, a stable and peaceful family life can help offset any genetic risk.
  • Environmental factors. Trauma, stress, or other negative environmental factors can make an individual more likely to develop chronic anxiety. In fact, it’s important to recognize if a history of trauma is causing the anxiety because trauma-induced anxiety requires different therapeutic approaches than other types.
  • Social problems. Bigger social issues like climate change, discrimination, political factors, or a pandemic can make chronic anxiety worse.
Woman psychological therapy to treat chronic anxiety

What kind of treatments are there?

There are treatments for chronic anxiety. Indeed, any type of mood disorder can be dealt with thanks to psychological therapy. In some cases, the strategy can be combined with psychotropic drugs. However, the most effective resource for treating the root of the problem and enabling the sufferer to manage chronic anxiety is psychotherapy. Systematic desensitization techniques, such as Jacobson’s progressive relaxation techniques, are extremely useful therapeutic approaches.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as acceptance and commitment therapy, can also be of great help. The most important thing is that the patient learns to develop rational thoughts, that are more reflective and aimed at obtaining greater control and well-being of their day-to-day. Anxiety won’t disappear from their life, it’ll always be present, but if they know how to handle it, it’ll stop being a burden and an impediment to their well-being.

Other strategies

Other strategies for dealing with chronic anxiety include:

  • Working on stability. One of the most important aspects of coping with chronic anxiety is doing everything possible to have a stable life. While therapy and medication are effective, nothing is as beneficial as the right environment and people, so change should be made whenever possible.
  • Acknowledging anxious thoughts. Irrational thoughts should be accepted and not treated as absolute truth.
  • Developing coping skills. The individual may need various coping skills for different levels of anxiety. For instance, really high anxiety might respond to a different technique than mid-level anxiety.
  • Practicing yoga or meditation. Adopting some form of meditation, yoga, or mindfulness. There are many different types of mindfulness practices that have positive effects on anxiety.

Living with chronic anxiety is difficult. Those who suffer from it experience physical and emotional symptoms that prevent them from functioning normally in their daily lives. That said, seeking treatment and developing coping skills can go a long way in reducing symptoms and better managing the condition. Therefore, if you should find yourself in this kind of situation, don’t hesitate in asking for expert help if you need it. Remember, you can move from an anxious to a calm mind.

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  • Bystritsky, A., Khalsa, S. S., Cameron, M. E., & Schiffman, J. (2013). Current diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders. P and T38(1), 30–44.
  • Gupta, S. (2022, 31 de mayo). What is cronic anxiety? Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/chronic-anxiety-symptoms-causes-and-treatment-5272111
  • Karna, B., Sankari, A., & Tatikonda, G. (2022). Sleep disorder. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  • Solomon, C. (2015): Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine, 373(21), pp. 2059 – 2068.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.