Anxiety disorders are a class of mental health conditions where anxiety becomes too intense or lasts long.
These conditions come in different forms, but all anxiety disorders exhibit an intense fear or worry not in proportion to the circumstances on hand.
And while it’s true that having an anxiety disorder can be debilitating, it should be noted that you’re not solely. In fact, anxiety disorders are amongst the most prevalent mental health issues which are profoundly treatable.
Once you recognize your anxiety disorder, you can seek out help to manage symptoms and get back control of your life.
- What is Anxiety?
- Types of Anxiety Disorders
- What Causes Anxiety?
- What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
- How is Anxiety Diagnosed?
- What Are the Treatments for Anxiety?
What is Anxiety?
Everyone experiences occasional anxiety, nervousness, and fear, all of which are considered helpful and normal human emotions to deal with danger.
For instance, when you have mild anxiety about meeting a deadline, you may gain some motivation which helps you finish your work ahead of time. Then, once the job is over, the anxiety subsides.
However, some people experience excessive, intense, irrational, and chronic anxiety that can become highly distressing and ongoing, interfering with their daily lives and functioning.
These persistent feelings may indicate an anxiety disorder with no logical or apparent reason for how a person feels.
Those who experience anxiety have a mental illness that won’t go away and feel as if the concern is controlling them.
Most people with anxiety disorders feel anxious all the time, with their worries outweighing their logic. As a result, they avoid situations that may otherwise be considered normal but are distressing and challenging to face for them.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, it is important to remember that anxiety only becomes a disorder or mental illness when it’s excessively irrational and interferes with a person’s ability to function in everyday life (1).
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of anxiety disorders, many of which can lead to severe social isolation and even clinical depression in the worst cases.
Anxiety disorders are commonly diagnosed in conjunction with depression or bipolar disorder. This implies that a person may switch between episodes of anxiety and depression.
The result is alternating extreme worry and fear for some time, tailed by feeling immensely hopeless or disconnected up till the cycle repeats itself.
Since depression and excessive anxiety may happen simultaneously, if untreated, can present a high risk of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Other anxiety disorders can also present similar symptoms and should be monitored by a doctor before they become too serious (2).
These are the most typical kinds of anxiety disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is excessive anxiety and an unrealistic worry about many things.
Most people with this condition often anticipate disaster persistently and become overly concerned about their health, family, money, work, and other issues.
This anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person finds it hard to control worry on most days for at least six months and demonstrates three or more symptoms.
This diagnosis differentiates GAD from worry that may be specific to a set stressor or for a more limited time. The condition develops gradually, and the highest risk is seen between early childhood and middle age.
Although the precise cause of GAD is unexplained, research suggests that family background, biological factors, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks that seemingly occur out of the blue. People who suffer from this disorder are very preoccupied with the fear of a recurring panic attack.
This anxiety disorder can interfere immensely with daily life causing people to miss work, go to multiple doctor visits, and avoid scenarios where they fear another attack may happen.
The interference is most significant when people also have agoraphobia along with panic disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
Social anxiety disorder is when the individual is terrified of being embarrassed or negatively evaluated by others.
This constant worry often triggers fear of public humiliation, such as speaking in public, talking to unfamiliar people, or attending social encounters in the workplace or elsewhere.
Social anxiety causes people to avoid social situations and can lead to extreme social isolation.
Some people who suffer from social phobias may only fear one type of situation, while others may be concerned about various conditions.
This can direct them to avoid the feared situation, leading to severe social isolation and avoiding people and activities they usually enjoy.
People suffering from specific phobias have an irrational and intense fear of a particular object or situation.
For instance, some people may fear animals, others may be afraid of specific places, and yet others may be afraid of people.
In some cases, the fear of the object or situation may become so severe that the person may encounter physical symptoms and panic attacks.
The adult sufferer usually knows that their excessive fear is unreasonable. Still, they are bound by the need to avoid the place, person, or object that triggers the attack, significantly restricting their social interaction and social functioning.
Agoraphobia is the fear of circumstances where rescue may be challenging, or it may seem that help won’t be available should things go awry.
As opposed to claustrophobia, which is the fear of enclosed spaces, most people presume that agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces.
However, not it’s not simply that, but someone with this condition may also be afraid of going to a shopping center, boarding public transport, or simply leaving home.
When an individual with agoraphobia happens to be in a stressful condition, they may experience the physical signs of a panic attack, including a racing heart or pounding heartbeat, heavy breathing, feeling sweaty, hot, or feeling sick.
Such people would avoid situations capable of bringing on anxiety and only go outside with a partner or a friend. Likewise, they may get groceries instead of going to the store.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
A condition typically associated with children, separation anxiety disorder, is when a child feels anxious about being away from a parent and exhibits clingy behavior.
While this may seem normal behavior for children, the difference between normal feelings of anxiety and separation anxiety disorder is that a child with the condition experiences extended periods of distress and fear about being away from familiar people and places.
However, it is not only children that can suffer from this disorder but adults as well. Some people who experience separation anxiety as an adult may have had the condition as a child, while others may only experience it in adulthood.
This disorder is characterized by unusual distress when separated from a person or pet, excessive worry that someone may be harmed if left alone, and heightened fear of being alone.
This is a severe anxiety disorder leaving people unable to speak in specific social situations. This may include talking to peers at school or meeting unfamiliar people in a social setting.
This type of anxiety disorder often begins during childhood and can carry over into adulthood if left untreated.
Anyone with selective mutism does not choose or refuse to speak. They simply cannot do so. Talking becomes impossible as feelings of nervousness and panic similar to those of stage fright take over.
However, the same people can speak easily to some people, such as friends and family members.
In children, the primary warning signs include the child’s inability to engage with people who are outside their comfort zone.
In addition, the child may exhibit sudden stillness or a frozen facial expression one expected to talk to someone they don’t know. Also, they may avoid eye contact and appear shy and withdrawn.
Medication-induced anxiety disorder
This type of anxiety disorder occurs when someone stops taking a drug or medication and starts experiencing anxiety instead.
But these are not your regular anxiety or withdrawal symptoms. Instead, the person becomes nervous, restless, and may start to panic.
Symptoms of medication-induced anxiety disorder may start while taking the drugs or a few days after you stop taking them.
Along with feeling worried and nervous, other medication-induced anxiety disorder symptoms may include trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, fear of losing control, thinking you’ve hit rock bottom, and losing weight because you experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Physical conditions such as experiencing chills, hot flashes, shaking, sweating, and numbness may also be part of the symptoms.
What Causes Anxiety?
The most common factors causing anxiety can include genetic and environmental factors, stressful events, drug withdrawal or misuse, and certain health issues.
People with a history of mental health issues in the family usually have problems with anxiety. Or traumatic events such as the death of a loved one, a troubled relationship, or a stressful environment such as stress at the workplace can also trigger symptoms of anxiety.
Certain health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems, or asthma may also become causes of anxiety. In addition, anyone suffering from depression can also develop symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Other risk factors include substance abuse use or explicit personality traits. For instance, for the former, people who use illegal drugs, alcohol, or other substances, often develop anxiety problems when the effects of the compound begin to wear off.
For the latter, people with character traits such as being a perfectionist or those who like to be in control can also develop anxiety-related issues.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Anxiety symptoms feel different for everyone, but generally, when someone feels anxious, their body goes on high alert and looks for possible dangers activating their fight or flight responses.
The main symptom of an anxiety disorder is a distressing and overwhelming worry that interferes with daily living in the person’s life.
Depending on the severity, people who experience anxiety may even avoid anxiety-inducing situations altogether.
Among the physical symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks are perhaps the most common. This is an unwarranted feeling of intense panic that can occur for no apparent reason.
Panic attacks can be a common occurrence in different types of anxiety disorders. They may include symptoms like heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dry mouth, dizziness, choking, or nausea.
Why a panic attack occurs is not entirely known, but the episode may be linked to chemical responses in the brain.
For instance, it may be brought on by an actual stressful or traumatic event or the fear of a stressful event occurring. The brain responds by triggering physiological changes such as a rapid heartbeat or shallow breathing.
Mental symptoms of anxiety disorders can include racing and anxious thoughts, uncontrollable overthinking, rumination and negative thoughts, feelings of panic, dread, or impending doom.
Some people may also feel overly irritable and experience heightened alertness or a sense of dissociation. As such, there is often a sense of persistent mental activity that creates nervousness and restlessness.
Mental anxiety disorder symptoms can seem as if a person’s mental focus is always on alert, with the brain having a hard time winding down and emotions staying heightened as well.
Not being able to relax effectively makes the period of anxiety mentally exhausting, and as a result, it may also cause brain fog.
Behavioral anxiety disorder symptoms may include feeling agitated and restless. People may find it hard to sit still or remain calm and gravitate towards social withdrawal and isolation.
Given the inability to focus and concentrate when anxiety symptoms worse, it may become difficult to meet responsibilities at home, work, school, or along with the ability to perform routine daily activities.
Behavioral responses reflect attempts to cope with the unpleasant aspect of anxiety and can trigger avoidance behaviors such as avoiding anxiety-producing situations.
How is Anxiety Diagnosed?
To diagnose anxiety disorders, your doctor will look at your medical history, perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and recommend lab tests, including a blood test.
This information helps the doctor determine if any other underlying medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, for instance, might be causing the symptoms.
Your doctor may also ask about any medications you may be taking. For example, certain medications may cause anxiety symptoms or may accompany certain medical conditions or other mental illnesses.
Once the doctor eliminates an underlying cause of the symptoms, they can perform a physiological evaluation.
Once the specialist has assessed all symptoms, family history, and other aspects related to your anxiety, they will conduct a feedback session during which both the patient and the doctor discuss the diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment options available.
What Are the Treatments for Anxiety?
A comprehensive treatment plan to prevent anxiety often includes a combination of different coping strategies.
Also, a mental health professional can try to find the proper treatment and support to relieve symptoms and help people recover.
So, while anxiety can seem distressing, anxiety disorders can be managed with adequate medical treatments. Also, there are many natural ways to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve daily stress management.
Exposure therapy and Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are two common options to treat anxiety disorders with therapy.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to change thinking patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that trigger anxiety, while exposure therapy focuses on slowly exposing the person to certain situations that trigger anxiety.
Psychiatrists often prescribe medication to manage anxiety disorder symptoms and coexisting mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, or schizophrenia.
Medication used to treat anxiety can be a short or long-term treatment option, depending on symptoms and response to treatment. Usually, medicine is used in conjunction with behavioral therapy or psychotherapy.
The most common medication for anxiety disorders in adults and young adults includes antidepressants, atypical antipsychotics, anti-anxiety medications, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.
Self-Help, Coping, and Managing
Other treatments for anxiety disorders include physical or relaxation exercises, stress management strategies, dietary supplements, nootropics for anxiety, various herbal remedies, changes in diet and sleep, and education.
Your mental health specialist may have you try talk therapy, deep muscle relaxation, meditation, breathing exercises, or counseling to manage stress effectively.
If you need additional support, there are different support groups that you can join in person or even online. For example, an anxiety support group is typically moderated by a volunteer who may be a current or former anxiety sufferer themself.
Or, there are online resources such as the Anxiety and Depression Association that provide support and comprehensive information about mental disorders related to anxiety (3).
Anxiety can vary from moderately distressing to firmly disruptive. Some people may use coping skills like creating an anxiety crisis kit or taking specific vitamins, nootropics, and supplements to manage symptoms.
In contrast, others may benefit from seeking support from friends and family.
Medication or therapy can also help a person with anxiety function well each day, whereas practice can prepare the body to relax after a period of activity.
Whether you experience mild or severe symptoms of anxiety disorders or if anxiety is changing your life, you need to speak with a doctor or a psychiatrist.