What psychiatrists and psychologists call “anxiety disorders” actually include a large number of very human experiences. We all have to cope with fear and worry. Anxiety is simply part of the human condition. But when anxiety takes over and our usual ways to cope with it no longer work, then it makes sense to say that something is wrong, and that you need help working through the problem.

Panic is one form of anxiety that you may be experiencing. Here the heart may race and pound out of your chest, you may feel unable to breath, think you’re about to die, and become utterly desperate, gasping for relief. The world is ending, so it seems. Terror. Then the panic usually passes after a time, and your body resets itself, while a fear lingers that this dreadful thing may happen again. Usually there is some trigger—anything from a walk through a “big-box” store to encountering certain difficult people to remembering suddenly a traumatic experience to facing a situation that feels impossible.

Some people find that they feel anxious almost all the time. You may feel constantly worried. Something as common as driving down the street brings fear. What if I hit a pedestrian? What if another car smashes into mine? It’s like you’re always expecting that something really bad is going to happen. You don’t know what it will be, but it’s out there, and it’s waiting to get you.

Others find that social situations make them anxious. Going to a party, or a meeting, or to visit friends and family stimulates awful fear. The body may express this fear with palpitations, fidgeting, crawling out of your skin, and the mind starts fantasizing about conversations going wrong, feeling shamed, or whatever your particular fear might be.

People who have experienced trauma in their lives usually struggle with anxiety at some level. Trauma is an intrusion on your sense of safety in your own body, among other things. The underlying feeling of walking around in the world is, “It’s not safe to be here.” You might even flash back sometimes to images and sensations of your trauma. You might find yourself spacing out—a natural way to protect yourself emotionally against what happened.

Different therapists will approach anxiety in different ways. A good therapist will even approach anxiety differently with each client, because everyone has a unique history and nature. What matters most is a solid, trusting relationship with your therapist. Anxiety tends to make you feel cut off from others and the world. Finding a therapist who will go right into these scary states of mind with you, stay with you in them, and not abandon you to them is crucial.

Like all psychological distress, anxiety is complex. It’s usually not any one thing that can be quickly fixed with the right pill or the right therapeutic trick or self-help book. Once you’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, it has become part of you, and you need someone very skilled to help you through and out of its grip. The life you hope for is on the other side.