More than 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, yet only a third of anxiety-ridden adults seek treatment.
"Everybody knows what it's like to be anxious," said psychologist Jonathan Abramowitz on The Daily Circuit Tuesday. "Everyone experiences anxiety, worry from time to time. About a quarter of people, at least in this country, at some point will meet the criteria for what we call anxiety disorders, where the person's catastrophic thinking either gets in the way of their functioning to the extent that they can't do things they want to do or it causes them a great deal of distress."
For many people with anxiety disorders, the problems occur when catastrophic thoughts spiral out of control, Abramowitz said.
"Everybody has these catastrophic thoughts when you're anxious," he said. "When we're anxious, our mind jumps to conclusions. We tend to overestimate the likelihood of something really awful happening and we underestimate how well we could cope."
Daniel Smith documented his battle with anxiety in the new tragicomic memoir, "Monkey Mind." He also joined The Daily Circuit Tuesday.
"Anxiety is on a spectrum of intensity, so it can go from zero to 10," he said. "When I'm at 10, I am still stuck in my head, I'm still worrying, I'm still thinking catastrophically. Any decision that I make could result in complete ruin of my life. This might feel crippling, I might feel nauseous, and I might have intestinal problems. It might be an absolute living hell."
In The New York Times, Smith questions the notion that we are more anxious than ever.
"Just because our anxiety is heavily diagnosed and medicated, however, doesn't mean that we are more anxious than our forebears," he wrote. "It might simply mean that we are better treated -- that we are, as individuals and a culture, more cognizant of the mind's tendency to spin out of control."
Listeners contributed their experiences on the blog.
"My anxiety has caused a deluge of effects on my health, from tension headaches to weight loss to acid reflux to just wanting to be alone," Emma wrote. "For me, I know exactly what causes my anxiety, but the triggers are out of my control. My anxiety is not genetic, it is something that my environment has caused, and the root problems are not easily fixable. I am on medication, I do creative activities to focus my mind differently, I exercise, and spend time outdoors. I will also say, a companion pet, whether it be a dog or cat, helps greatly!"
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, Abramowitz said.
"In CBT, we use a number of different techniques to help people identify when these distorted thoughts are occurring," he said, and look at them objectively. The goal isn't to make a person free of the thoughts, but understand methods for controlling them.
Do you struggle with anxiety? Comment on the blog.
Molly Bloom contributed to this report.