These are stressful times. The election. Climate change. Terrorism. Violence on the streets. And, of course, work—or the lack of it. No wonder so many Americans feel anxious.

A third of us—or about 100 million Americans—suffer from chronic anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association.

Anxiety disorders, marked by oppressive and unrelenting worry, were once thought to be mainly a problem of young and middle-aged adults. But new research shows that about 15 to 20 percent of seniors suffer from them, too, says Rajesh Tampi, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

That’s almost double previous estimates. And young people are suffering as well. Anxiety is now the most commonly diagnosed health condition among people age 12 to 17.

Yet less than a third of people with anxiety are doing anything about it. And many of those who do seek treatment may be pushed too quickly toward medication when simpler measures can help.

They may not realize that medications they take may actually be triggering anxiety as a side effect, or that other underlying health problems, including thyroid or heart conditions, may be worsening their anxiety.

Here’s how to recognize anxiety and how to treat it.

Understand the Types

A little anxiety can be a good thing, motivating you to act quickly in the face of danger, for example, or inspiring caution with your finances. But when you can’t control your worries they can harm your health.

Generalized anxiety disorder, the most common type in older adults, causes overwhelming worry with swirling, repetitive thoughts of dread.

Sufferers say they’re “miserable, anxious, and aroused—they can’t relax, and have trouble focusing,” says Richard A. Friedman, M.D., director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. They may also experience fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, and insomnia.

Or anxiety can emerge as a panic disorder, a sudden onset of terror that produces heart-pounding panic attacks without warning.

Try Relaxation Techniques

If you experience anxiety regularly but it doesn’t substantially limit your ability to function normally, consider such measures as meditation, tai chi, yoga, slow and deep breathing, or prayer. They can help people manage stress and anxiety, research suggests.

Aerobic exercise may help, too. It can spark the production of anxiety-reducing chemicals in the brain. “Anything that gives you more sense of control over your own body and your thinking would be beneficial,” Tampi says.

Get the Right Help

If excessive worry interferes with your daily life on most days for six months or longer, talk with a doctor. He or she can rule out physical causes like medication side effects as well as ask questions to diagnose the condition and recommend appropriate counseling or therapy, which can sometimes ease or cure anxiety without the need for medication.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the most common type used for anxiety disorders, involves learning to observe anxious feelings and what triggers them, and developing coping skills.

When to Try Medication

If CBT or other therapy doesn’t provide enough relief, you may need medication, usually in addition to therapy. Some studies show that about 60 percent of people taking antidepressants such as citalopram (Celexa and generic) and sertraline (Zoloft and generic) improve compared with about 40 percent of those taking a placebo.

But those drugs can take several weeks to work and they can cause such side effects as sexual dysfunction, nausea, diarrhea, and insomnia. So work with your doctor to find one that helps you but has the mildest side effects.

Be wary if he recommends benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). They can work fast but have strong effects that can increase the risk of falls and fractures, worsen memory, cause confusion and sedation, and lead to drug interactions, addiction, and overdoses, especially in older adults.

Those drugs should only be used short term for severe anxiety, and only until psychotherapy and antidepressants kick in. Even more worrisome are antipsychotic medications such as quetiapine (Seroquel and generic), which are sometimes used to reduce anxiety in nursing home residents. They pose many risks and should only be used as a last resort.