How To Tell If You Really Have Anxiety, From An Actual Doctor

It’s time we get real for a second. Your mental health might be an area of your life that you’re neglecting, but it shouldn’t be. It can feel difficult to talk to someone about your mental health, so that’s why we enlisted Dr. Jenny Taitz to answer some of your most common mental health questions. Dr. Taitz is a clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy: Science-Based Strategies For Keeping Your Sanity While Looking For a Soul Mate. Dr. Taitz has already given some great advice on how not to let being single depress you; now, we’re talking to her about anxiety. Read below for how to tell if you have panic disorder (what most millennials refer to as “having anxiety”), or if you’re just feeling temporarily anxious, and how to cure it.

Remember that time you had a barely noticeable pimple that you tried to “fix,” leaving your face looking worse? The way people handle anxiety reminds me of attacking a minor blemish to the point that you have a scar. I don’t want to minimize—it’s so frustrating to feel like you want to relax and can’t calm down. Yet, there are so many ways we make ourselves much worse. If you notice that worry is stalking you, you’re not alone—millennials’ biggest mental health complaint is anxiety. The good news is that if you truly have panic disorder, your life isn’t over. While you may think you belong in the E.R., the problem is so treatable that cognitive behavioral therapy frees 80% of people from symptoms in as little as 8 sessions. If you have other forms of anxiety, evidence-based therapies that teach you mindfulness, acceptance, and ways to approach your fears will empower you (studies have found these therapies work as well as medications) and won’t entail investing years lying on a therapist’s couch.

What’s A Panic Attack?

If you’ve been freaking out for more than 30 minutes because you have so much to do you and you don’t even know where to start, you are—technically speaking—anxious. As panicky as you feel, by definition, a panic attack hits people out of nowhere and lasts less than 10 minutes. Some symptoms of panic include sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, and fear of either losing control dying. While anxiety can include physical symptoms, panic is briefly terrifying and your stress is about your physiology (e.g. I’m going to pass out), not issues in your life. Some people feel so nervous about being overwhelmed by panic that they develop agoraphobia and try to skip any situation that they can’t easily escape (e.g. subways or concerts).

Anxiety Attack

What’s Anxiety?

Anxiety is annoying—of course you don’t like worrying, feeling restless, uncontrollably tensing, or struggling to restfully sleep. Generally, if you worry excessively about others judging you, that’s known as social anxiety, and common fears include sounding stupid or introducing yourself in a big group (if you think you have this, 15 million American adults meet the criteria). If you have general anxiety, lots of topics from money to health run wild in your mind. Specific phobia, the most common anxiety disorder, describes irrationally fearing a specific situation (e.g., seeing rats or flying).

Social Anxiety

How TF Do I Get Better?

Action is the way out of anxiety, so please don’t wait to feel better in order to realize your goals (especially if your goal is feeling better). Avoidance literally maintains your fears, so therapy will cheer you on to approach what you want to postpone. Life is hard and learning skills to accept uncomfortable feelings (yup, that means skipping self-medicating with weed or wine) will set you free, since we all get screwed over when we won’t tolerate less than feeling comfortably. I love the quote, “the price of security is insecurity.”

Btw, do you know what you do in therapy if you have panic attacks? Your therapist will help you do things like hyperventilate so you realize that you can cope (on that note, more than 80% of what you worry about never actually happens). You got this, betches!


If you feel trapped by anxiety, you can find a therapist who specializes in evidence-based therapies by visiting

Images: Kyle Broad / Unsplash; Giphy (3)