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Crippling Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Every living human has experienced anxiety at some point in their life. In fact, it’s a fairly safe bet that every living human has experienced it to some degree today. 

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. Being nervous because of a job interview or the first day of school are some common examples of naturally-induced anxiety. Stressing out over bills or an upcoming test or assignment are some more. 

Anxiety is a natural and common part of everyday life. As a direct result of anxiety being so common, millions of people worldwide have undiagnosed anxiety disorders. Because experiencing anxiety is a normal part of life, they may not realize how severe their anxiety is. Speaking with a therapist is the quickest way to find out if you are experiencing normal everyday anxiety or if it’s something more severe like crippling anxiety. 

What Is Crippling Anxiety?

Crippling anxiety is not a medical diagnosis itself, but rather a symptom of some versions of an anxiety disorder. While feeling anxious or having butterflies in your stomach before an important event is normal and expected, people with anxiety disorders will have an overwhelming or crippling sense of anxiety for simple and typically non-stressful daily events. These are a few examples of the more commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders:

  • Panic Disorder. A panic disorder is most often characterized by the tendency for panic or anxiety attacks. These are sudden feelings of intense terror that overwhelm the person and make it incredibly difficult to think rationally or function normally. Typically they will experience these feelings of dread and terror alongside an elevated heart rate, sweating, nausea, trouble breathing, and racing thoughts.

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. More commonly known as PTSD, this anxiety disorder is usually linked to a specific traumatic event in the person’s past. Some of the more common ones involve losing a loved one or being a victim of violence. The disorder is usually characterized by terrifying flashbacks to the traumatic event coupled with feelings of numbness, being on edge or like their “fight or flight” system is on hyper drive.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This anxiety disorder is, obviously, a little more general than the others on the list and represents the feelings of constantly worrying but without a specific link to a stressful event or situation.

  • Social Anxiety. Anyone that experiences social anxiety will feel like they are always going to be harshly judged or deeply humiliated when they socialize with others. They are usually incredibly self-conscious when they are in social situations and have a tendency to avoid socializing altogether for this reason.

  • Phobias. This is the irrational fear of a specific situation or item. Some of the more common ones are fears of snakes, fears of heights and fears of speaking publicly. 

What Are the Symptoms of Crippling Anxiety? 

There are several specific kinds of anxiety, and many of them have the same symptoms that manifest physically as well as emotionally. For those with anxiety disorders they tend to struggle performing essential tasks such as taking care of themselves or their children. 

Their intense anxiety, worries, and fears often become overwhelming and freeze them. In the event of these circumstances occurring then it’s best to speak to a therapist who can help to determine if the experiences are potentially signs of an anxiety disorder. 

Some of the most common symptoms of crippling anxiety are:

  • Feeling intense fear, panic, or generally feeling unsettled
  • Constantly feeling “on edge”
  • Being irritable or angry often
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Nausea, stomachaches, or digestive issues
  • Dizziness and the feeling of being unsteady
  • Headaches, neck pain, and muscle tension
  • Racing thoughts
  • Withdrawing from social situations and isolating from others
  • Excessive sweating
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • An inability to sit still
  • Chest tightness or difficult breathing 

What Is the Cause of Crippling Anxiety? 

It’s difficult to determine the exact origin of anyone with crippling anxiety without a diagnosed anxiety disorder. 

For instance, in cases of PTSD, there will typically be a traumatic event in the person’s past that led to their crippling anxiety. Social anxiety disorder may have a similar origin and could be the result of a traumatic social experience. There are just too many variables to give a broad answer, and every person with an anxiety disorder will have a different origin for their condition. 

What is known for sure is that anxiety disorders are not uncommon. In fact, they are the most common mental illness in America and affect over 40 million people. While the people suffering from this ordeal will have common experiences, only a licensed therapist would have the skills required to discover the root cause of crippling anxiety.

Are There Any Treatments for Crippling Anxiety?

The best treatments available for specific anxiety disorders and crippling anxiety will come from a therapist. They may recommend undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization reprocessing, or exposure therapy. These are various forms of psychotherapy treatment that intend to understand and repair the root causes of anxiety. While these treatments are a wonderful option, they will not be a one-time cure, and learning to cope with anxiety will be just as important as undergoing these therapeutic treatments. 

How To Cope With Crippling Anxiety 

There is no cure for anxiety, but there are ways to manage it. While therapy can be a great option to help the process, it should only be a part of the solution and not the entirety. An anxiety disorder is a chronic mental illness that will never fully go away but that doesn’t mean there are no ways to improve your lifestyle in order to reduce its effects and be able to function more normally. Here are some tips on how to cope with crippling anxiety:

  • HALT anxiety in the moment. The acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is a handy way to attempt to get anxiety under control. In the event where you begin to feel crippling anxiety, simply remember HALT and ask yourself: Are you hungry, and if so, when was the last time you ate? Are you feeling angry, and if so, then why? Are you feeling lonely, and is there someone you can talk to? Are you feeling tired, and do you have the ability to get some sleep? Even if these issues are not the current cause of the crippling anxiety, they can distract you from the panic and get your mind thinking rationally again.

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise has been proven time and again to be a powerful option to mitigate worry, stress, and anxiety. Aerobic exercise especially seems to reduce these feelings. Physical exercise reduces physical tension in the body, distracts you from worrying, and can alter brain chemicals to boost mood and lower anxiety naturally.

  • Meditation. Mediation can be just as useful of a tool for reducing anxiety as physical exercise. Studies have shown that mediation is effective for improving symptoms of anxiety disorders and also reducing depression, stress and pain in general.

  • Connect with people. Having social support can be a great way to help fight against anxiety. If you are struggling with something, then talk with a friend or go for a walk with someone you know. These simple activities can lower stress and put your mind at ease. Having a strong social network will help to build more resilience in the face of anxiety long term. In addition to spending more time with the people closest to you, support groups are another great way to share with and learn from other people who suffer from anxiety disorders as well.

  • Improve your diet. Physical health is tied directly to mental health and the more physically healthy you are then the better your ability to cope with anxiety will become. It’s a good idea to consider seeing a nutritionist or dietician in order to help you plan a healthy and balanced diet, as you may not be eating as healthy as you may think you are. In addition, a professional can help recommend food that helps combat anxiety naturally. For example, low magnesium levels have been linked to anxiety, and foods rich in zinc or omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce anxiety.

  • Identify triggers. Keeping a journal can be a great way to help you reflect on your feelings and experiences in a useful way. By maintaining a record of your bouts of crippling anxiety then you will be able to get an idea of what your triggers may be. Once you know these external factors that are causing these problems, then you will be in better shape to make positive changes. 

The Takeaway 

Crippling anxiety is not a medical diagnosis and is most commonly a symptom of an anxiety disorder. These disorders are extremely common, and while there is no cure, there are plenty of options for treatments and ways to cope with it.

Everyone should feel some anxiety in their daily lives, but not to the point where it’s crippling and impairs your ability to function. Anxiety is a normal and natural human response to stress, but too much of it can cause devastating problems. Speaking with a qualified therapist about the possibility of having an anxiety disorder is the first and most important step toward getting mentally healthy.


  1. Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments (me.clevelandclinic.org)
  2. Crippling Anxiety: Symptoms, Depression, Treatment, and More (healthline.com)
  3. How to Cope With Crippling Anxiety and Knowing When to Seek Treatment – Bridges to Recovery (bridgestorecovery.com) 

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