Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
March 9, 2024

Navigating Anxiety Disorders in Millennials: Types, Causes, and Treatments

Everyone knows what it’s like to feel anxiety: the familiar constriction in the chest and belly, the increasing heart rate, the sweating and racing thoughts. Anxiety sucks. According to the World Health Organization, it’s also the most common mental health concern in the world, with millions impacted worldwide.

However, if you have excessive or pervasive anxiety that makes it hard to function, you may have an anxiety disorder. Globally, over 4% of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Learning about the types, symptoms, causes, and treatments can help you understand your own experiences better and seek mental health support when you need it.

Common Anxiety Disorders and Their Symptoms

The DSM-V lists several types of anxiety disorders. The most common include the following:

Millennials with anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by marked or excessive fear, dread, or worry about things. The objects of a person’s fears may or may not be based on anything specific. Instead, GAD anxiety tends to be a shape-shifter. Someone may find themselves worried about something at work, for example, but then after that issue passes the anxiety moves on to something else. GAD often feels like a sense of general dread or unease – like a persistent and nagging anxiety you can’t shake. 

Signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive worry
  • Difficulty controlling anxiety, despite someone often knowing their worries aren’t realistic or helpful 
  • Restlessness and edginess
  • Muscle tension or chronic pain
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping (difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping fitfully)
  • Struggles with focus and concentration
  • Perfectionism
  • People-pleasing 
  • Extreme social self-consciousness
  • Avoidance of environments, people, or situations that cause anxiety
  • Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, heavy breathing, sweating, shaking, nausea, lightheadedness, and gastrointestinal distress 

Panic Disorder

Someone with panic disorder experiences chronic and unpredictable panic attacks. The frequency of panic attacks varies. They may happen once or twice a year, or they may occur on a weekly or monthly basis. 

Panic attack symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Inability to catch one’s breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Heat or cold
  • Fear of dying
  • Detachment from reality
  • Intense fear of future panic attacks

Panic attacks are uncomfortable and can feel incredibly scary. For this reason, people tend to make avoidance-based behavioral changes in order to attempt to prevent panic attacks from happening. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear of social situations that may lead to rejection, embarrassment, or judgment. Symptoms include:

  • Intense fear of scrutiny in social settings
  • Fear of anxiety symptoms making scrutiny worse
  • Avoidance or extreme fear of social situations
  • Severe self-consciousness
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Muscle tension or rigid posture
  • Whirring thoughts and inability to speak properly

Many people can relate to feeling nervous or awkward during social situations. However, people with social anxiety disorder experience severe distress that can cause difficulty in everyday functioning.


A phobia is an intense fear and aversion to a particular situation, experience, or object. The fear experienced by someone with a phobia is usually out of proportion to the risk of actual danger. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less terrifying. People with phobias tend to worry excessively or irrationally about encountering their phobia. Similarly to people with other types of anxiety disorders, someone with a phobia makes avoidance-based behavioral changes to prevent an encounter. 

Some examples of common phobias are:

  • Heights (acrophobia)
  • The sight of blood (hemophobia)
  • Flying (aviophobia)
  • Being in open or crowded places (agoraphobia)
  • Being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)
  • Certain animals, such as spiders (arachnophobia)

The best known treatments for phobias are cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. During exposure therapy, a person is slowly, safely, and methodically exposed to their feared object or situation in a controlled environment until they become more desensitized to it. 

Anxiety disorders and their symptoms

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

There are many potential causes and risk factors for anxiety disorders, including:

  • Genetics
  • History of mental illness in the family
  • Trauma
  • Differences in brain chemistry or structure
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic illness, pain, or other conditions that impact the nervous system
  • Environment

Often, the causes are a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. For example, maybe your mom is prone to anxiety (genetic link), you grew up in a tense or chaotic household (environmental or traumatic link), and you’re navigating underlying trauma (traumatic and brain chemistry link). All of these factors combined can easily lead to an anxiety disorder.

It’s important to note that co-occurring disorders or underlying disorders may also be present alongside anxiety disorders. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is considered a trauma and stress-related disorder but can often lead to or worsen an anxiety disorder, particularly generalized anxiety disorder. Other disorders that may form alongside anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, eating disorders, and substance use.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders in Millennials

The best anxiety treatment varies depending on someone’s personality, background, history, severity of symptoms, and preferences. Effective phobia treatment, for example, often involves some form of exposure therapy. Generalized anxiety disorder, on the other hand, typically requires a more psychotherapy-based approach, as well as medications when needed.

Here are common treatment methods for anxiety disorders in millennials:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.) CBT is considered the gold standard for treating certain conditions, including many anxiety disorders. It helps you develop awareness of your thought patterns, behaviors, and beliefs, and then make changes to unhelpful areas. 

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP.) While ERP falls under the umbrella of CBT, it’s worth highlighting on its own. This type of therapy helps people slowly face their anxieties, endure uncomfortable feelings, and subsequently learn how to better manage anxious emotions and sensations. Considered the most effective therapeutic style for obsessive-compulsive disorder, ERP is also incredibly helpful at dialing down anxiety and teaching you skills for regulating anxious thoughts. 

Psychoeducation. Learning about the impacts of anxiety disorders in your life can be incredibly helpful. For example, understanding how learned coping mechanisms like perfectionism or people-pleasing are caused by and exacerbate anxiety disorders can lead to a more active and effective treatment approach. Additionally, understanding the impacts of co-occurring disorders, such as eating disorders or substance use, can shed light on your anxiety.

Healing root causes. Healing underlying trauma or co-occurring disorders through therapy, coaching, EMDR, or other support is necessary for healing from anxiety disorders.

Medications. Medications can be useful in stabilizing moods and balancing brain chemistry. They don’t erase your anxiety, but they can improve your general outlook and give you the space to find healthy coping strategies. Your doctor can help you decide the best medication for you. 

Lifestyle changes. Anxiety can get worse when you don’t spend enough time with people you love, don’t sleep enough, or are experiencing overwhelming levels of stress. Making an effort to change these areas of your life can considerably improve your mental health. Try looking for support groups or community activities, getting enough exercise,  managing and limiting chronic stress, and getting enough sleep. 

Support for Millennials With Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety can make your life a living hell. If you want support in stabilizing your moods and boosting your mental health, consider trying therapy or a coaching program designed for anxiety. I offer online therapy and coaching services for anxious, overachieving clients who struggle with everyday life stressors and know something needs to change. I’m here to help you:

  • Redirect and reframe cognitive errors such as black-and-white thinking and assuming the worst
  • Unlearn anxiety coping mechanisms like perfectionism, overachieving, and people pleasing
  • Process underlying trauma
  • Recover from co-occurring disorders, such as ADHD, substance use, or eating disorders
  • Learn more effective emotion regulation strategies
  • Implement healthy stress management techniques

Together, we work through and heal underlying mental health issues while helping you learn healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for your unique stressors and anxieties. I use modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR to address trauma and deal with present-day concerns.

If work and life stresses keep you trapped in a cycle of overachievement, perfectionism, and burnout, I have a coaching program designed specifically for you. My coaching for perfectionists program helps you learn how to slow down, feel good enough, and overcome the constant, underlying buzz of anxiety and stress in your life. No matter where you are, I help you regain control and empowerment so you can live the life you want.

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together. 

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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