Anxiety and fear are basic emotions that are experienced by everyone and are necessary for survival. Anxiety is important because it helps people prepare for a threat. Fear is important because it helps people fight or escape.
The experiences of anxiety and fear are normal responses to threat or danger and are usually helpful. Anxiety and fear may be unhelpful if they interfere with a person’s daily routine or prevent a person from doing things that he/she normally does. If the anxiety or fear is long-lasting and without relief, it may be a sign that a person has developed a more significant problem with anxiety, often called an “anxiety disorder.”
Anxiety disorders are common. Almost one-third of adults will have experienced an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime. The good news is there are effective treatments for anxiety disorders. For more information on treatments see VA Programs and Services or Other Resources.
There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders. Veterans often know a lot about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is one kind of anxiety disorder that may result from traumatic experiences, such as combat and assault. Many Veterans also experience other kinds of anxiety, which are described next.
Every VA Medical Center offers mental health services. If you would like to learn more about anxiety or anxiety disorders or if you would like more information about what programs or services are available to you, please contact your local VA facility and ask to be connected to the mental health clinic. Your primary care provider may also be able to provide additional information or refer you to a mental health clinician.
There are a number of treatments for anxiety that are available at your local VA medical center or community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC). Research studies have shown that medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), and the combination of medication and psychotherapy are very effective for most people who seek treatment for anxiety. There are many types of professionals who treat anxiety. A visit with your primary care provider may be a good place to start. Your primary care provider may be able to prescribe medication to relieve symptoms of anxiety and may refer you to a behavioral health provider for additional evaluation and treatment.
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders is a kind of talk therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In general, CBT is a short-term treatment that helps people with anxiety learn new ways of coping with or managing their anxiety. The CBT provider typically teaches people different ways of thinking about things that make them anxious and guides them in changing their behavior so that they are not avoiding things that feel scary but are not dangerous. The goal of CBT is to teach the person with anxiety new ways of responding to the anxiety so that it no longer gets in the way of routine activities. Your primary care or mental health provider can refer you to a VA clinician who is trained to provide CBT.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has developed pamphlets describing the different kinds of anxiety disorders. Click on the links below to access a specific pamphlet.