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November 29, 2023 Nov 29, 2023 8 min read

Anxiety Disorders in Trauma Survivors


  • What is Anxiety?
  • Types of Anxiety Disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias
  • Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
  • How Anxiety Disorders Affect Daily Life
  • How to Manage Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that occurs when you are faced with a threatening situation. Occasional anxiety is normal. But, anxiety disorders are different. They occur when a person experiences overwhelming fear and anxiety. Excessive anxiety can make you avoid situations that trigger anxiety. This can cause a person to avoid spending time with friends, trying new things, and even driving. Anxiety can result in missed opportunities and limit a person’s life significantly.


For many people, anxiety disorders and trauma go hand-in-hand. In fact, research has found that people who have experienced trauma have higher rates of anxiety. Trauma is a risk factor for anxiety disorders. People who have experienced sexual assault or harassment, in particular, are more likely to suffer from anxiety. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at anxiety disorders and explore different ways to manage anxiety.


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Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders that may affect trauma survivors. Here are the most common ones.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by profound, chronic worry about everyday life. GAD is more common in people with a history of trauma, especially those with a history of sexual trauma.


A person with GAD may worry about various things, such as money, work, or family. While everyone gets anxious about these things from time to time, a person with GAD may spend hours a day worrying. This worry can make it difficult to finish daily tasks or concentrate. The anxiety is more intense than what the situation calls for. The person may become physically exhausted by worry and experience nausea, headaches, or muscle tension.


Panic Disorder

A person with panic disorder experiences sudden, recurrent panic attacks for no apparent reason. Panic attacks are common among people who have experienced traumatic events. Panic attacks are intense episodes of anxiety with emotional and physical symptoms. These attacks may last for several minutes. A person may experience excessive fear, a sense of impending doom, heart palpitations, chills, nausea, sweating, and trembling or shaking during panic attacks. People who have panic attacks often worry about having another attack and may significantly change their life to avoid another attack. A person may avoid driving for fear that they will experience a panic attack while behind the wheel.


Social Anxiety Disorder

This disorder is characterized by an intense and chronic fear of being rejected or judged by others. Research has shown that the development of social anxiety disorder is more prevalent among those who have experienced trauma.


A person with social anxiety disorder may be very self-conscious in social situations. They may overly worry about being embarrassed. Although some social anxiety is normal, those with social anxiety disorder experience intense episodes of anxiety that may affect social relationships, work, and other areas of life. For instance, a person with social anxiety might avoid situations where they will meet new people, like parties.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an extreme, irrational fear of a situation or object that poses little or no danger. Even thinking about the situation or object can cause severe anxiety. A person may be afraid of driving, high places, insects, flying, and other situations or objects. They may go to great lengths to avoid situations that cause fear. This can cause them to miss out on opportunities and affect their quality of life.


Research has shown that specific phobias may begin following a traumatic experience in the feared situation.

System of Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • A sense of impending doom, danger, or panic
  • Heart Palpitation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feeling nervous, tense or on edge
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Restlessness
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Difficulty Controlling the worry
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking other than the worry 
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Sleep problems

How Anxiety Disorders Affect Daily Life

Anxiety disorders can affect life in many different ways. A person with an anxiety disorder may withdraw from family and friends. They may avoid certain situations or be unable to go to work. While the anxiety may go away temporarily if the person avoids things or situations that trigger it, the anxiety will likely return. Worry  can affect sleep. Some people with anxiety may appear fine on the outside but experience the symptoms described above.


How to Manage Anxiety Disorders

There are many ways to manage anxiety disorders. The right course of action will depend on the type of anxiety disorder that you have and how severe it is.



Want to control your worries? Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help. CBT is the most widely used therapy for anxiety disorders.


CBT helps you learn strategies for recognizing and overcoming anxious or distressing thoughts. Want to learn to recognize and change anxious thoughts on your own? Check out our FREE downloadable.



There are a variety of medications that can help with anxiety. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications if necessary.


There are a variety of medications that can help with anxiety. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications if necessary.


Relaxation Techniques

There are many relaxation techniques that can help reduce tension and evoke relaxation.


Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is another relaxation technique that is very calming and easy to practice. You only need about 20 minutes to practice. For the best results, do this daily. Find a comfortable, quiet place to practice. Get in a relaxing position. Focus on your breathing. Become aware of your breath. Feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe. Next, notice your thoughts. When thoughts come up, don’t ignore them. Simply pay attention to them and imagine them passing by like clouds. Stay in the moment as long as you need.


Guided imagery

Guided imagery is a simple, convenient relaxation technique that can help you reduce tension in your body and anxiety in your mind. To practice guided imagery, first, get comfortable. Next, breathe in from your belly. Then, once you begin to get relaxed, imagine the most relaxing environment that you can imagine. This can be a beach somewhere or sitting in a cabin deep in the woods. Then, try to imagine the environment using all of your senses. How does it feel? What does it look like? How does it smell? Stay in your relaxing environment for as long as you need.


There are a variety of different breathing techniques that can help calm anxiety. One very effective and easy method is humming breath. The Humming Bee Breath combines vibration with breath to ease tension in the mind and body. Here’s how to practice it. Take a comfortable seat. Breathe in through your nose for at least five seconds. With your mouth closed, hum until you are out of breath. Repeat seven times.

To practice relaxation techniques, sign up for a FREE 14-day trial on our website.

Here are some things to try:

  • Yoga Research has shown that yoga can help with anxiety. There are even anxiety practices that you can try. Sign up for a 14-day FREE trial to watch yoga videos for anxiety.
  • Nature Walks – Spending time in nature has been shown to help reduce anxiety and boost mood. Taking short 15-30 minute nature walks several times a week is a great way to manage anxiety.
  • Swimming – Swimming promotes the release of feel-good chemicals or endorphins. These may help reduce stress and anxiety.

Final Thoughts

People who have experienced trauma, especially sexual assault, are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders. The good news is that you can learn to manage anxiety disorders by practicing relaxation techniques on a regular basis, going to therapy, and following the general recommendations of your medical provider. With the right support, you can do things that you never thought possible!

Challenging Anxiety Tool

Challenging negative thoughts is a skill you can learn, but you need daily practice. This journal helps you become adept at recognizing and challenging negative automatic thoughts when they occur. Everyone has negative thoughts pop up at any time without notice. We can’t control them, but we can change them and manage our response to them. Use this journal to recognize, challenge and change negative thoughts to increase your agency over time. Download the Challenging Anxiety Tool

Author Bio:

Emily Mendez, M.S., Ed.S

Emily is a mental health author and one of the leading voices in mental health. Her writing has appeared in eCounseling and SonderMind. See what Emily is up to on Instagram.  

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