Skip to main content
CNN.com CNN.com -- Health
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions

Expert Q&A

  • Share this on:
    Share
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

How can I keep my anxiety under control?

Asked by Lori, Pennsylvania

Open quote
Close quote

I've started having terrible anxiety over the past month and it's starting to become debilitating. What can I do to calm myself down when I feel it start to build up?

Expert Bio Picture

Mental Health Expert Dr. Charles Raison Psychiatrist,
Emory University Medical School

Expert Answer

Dear Lori,

Let me start by saying that all I know about you is the two worrisome sentences of your question. I don't know how old you are or what has been going on in your life, either in terms of stress or medical illness. Also, I don't know if your anxiety is pretty much with you all the time or whether you are having severe bouts of anxiety that are known as panic attacks.

Because I don't know these things about you, I cannot give you any definitive advice about what is the best thing to do for your anxiety. But I hear an urgency in your question that strongly suggests to me that you should see a mental health professional as soon as you can. Severe anxiety is perhaps the single most unpleasant emotional state a human can experience, and you don't want to expose yourself to it for one day more than you have to.

Having said all this, let me talk to you a little bit about anxiety in general. Whenever I hear an adult say that he or she has had a sudden onset of persistent anxiety, I know that very often the underlying problem is usually not anxiety -- as strange as that sounds.

Rather, whenever anxiety strikes an adult, it is more likely to be major depression than anxiety per se. Why? Because anxiety is usually chronic --something that troubles a person for years, not something that comes up over a month's time. When I talk to adults who develop anxiety fairly suddenly, it usually is a reflection of an underlying depression.

In fact, almost everyone who becomes depressed has anxiety, and the anxiety is often more unpleasant than the feeling of depression itself. The older a person is when he/she becomes depressed, the more likely it is that anxiety will be a real problem.

If any of this sounds relevant to your situation, let me tell you that the other common depression symptoms are sadness and/or a feeling that life is empty of pleasure, trouble sleeping, eating too little or too much, feeling worthless and guilty, suicidal thoughts, trouble thinking and concentrating, and loss of energy. If you've got any combination of these you probably have developed a depression.

One anxiety disorder that does often develop suddenly in adulthood is panic disorder. While people with panic disorder can develop chronic anxiety, the key features of this illness are recurrent panic attacks and an uncontrollable fear of having panic attacks. Generally panic attacks are characterized by the very rapid onset of crippling anxiety or terror, accompanied by any number of physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, chest pain, dizziness, nausea and sweating.

Finally, although it is rare until people are elderly, sometimes the sudden onset of anxiety is a symptom of a physical illness that has not yet been diagnosed. This is yet another reason why it is so important that you see a medical doctor, given your current situation.

I hope these thoughts have helped you a little bit in identifying what might be going on with you. Fortunately, effective treatments -- both pharmacological and behavioral (i.e. certain specific psychotherapy techniques) -- are available for major depression and panic disorder. It is of utmost importance that you get your condition treated as quickly as possible.

More Q&A

  • CNN's Medical UnitCNN's medical unit brings you the best experts available to answer your questions about current events and health issues that matter most to you.
Expert: Did 'Kony' director have 'manic episode?'asked by: By Dr. Charles Raison, Special to CNN; (CNN)
Do homeopathic treatments for ADHD work?asked by: Asked by Suzie;
Are mood swings a sign of depression?asked by: Asked by Jeffery T. Johnson; San Diego, California
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.