If you’ve been feeling more anxious than usual lately, you may have anxiety. The good news; You’re in good company!
According to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 19.1%—or over 40 million adults in the US have an anxiety disorder. Additionally, 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year.
Some anxiety is helpful—it helps us react to stress by quickening our reflexes and focusing our attention on meaningful work. This kind of anxiety settles once the event that triggered it has passed.
However, when the symptoms of anxiety become larger than the events that triggered them and begin to interfere with your life, they could point to an anxiety disorder.
So, what exactly is anxiety disorder? This post will cover everything you need to know about anxiety disorder, including symptoms, causes, and treatment.
What Is Anxiety Disorder?
It’s normal to feel anxious when attending a job interview, going on a date, starting a new job, or waiting for test results from a doctor. This type of anxiety may feel unpleasant, but it motivates you to concentrate or do a better job.
Ordinary anxiety comes and goes once the event that triggered it has passed In the case of anxiety disorder, the feeling of anxiousness or fear may be with you all the time. At times, it can produce an intense sensation of fear that can be debilitating.
An anxiety disorder can interfere with your daily life in unprecedented ways. In extreme situations, it may prevent you from crossing the street, interacting with people, entering the elevator, or even leaving your home. Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common form of mental illnesses. A new study from Cambridge University published in the journal Brain & Behavior found that women are more likely to get anxiety disorders than men.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different. That said, general symptoms of anxiety can be mental, physical, or behavioral. Mental symptoms include:
- Feeling fear, panic, and anxiousness
- Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
- Problems with sleep
- Heightened alertness
- Feeling irritable
- Difficulties concentrating
Physical symptoms include:
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
- Cold or sweaty hands
- Dizziness and fainting
- Extreme tiredness or lack of energy
- Stomach aches and sickness
Behavioral symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Ritualistic behaviors such as washing hands repeatedly
- Anxiousness or inability to stay calm
You may experience different symptoms depending on the type of anxiety disorder you’re experiencing. While some of these symptoms may be normal to anyone suffering from mild anxiety, people with anxiety disorders will experience them to persistent or extreme levels.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders classifies anxiety into many different types. These include:
- Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear. If you have panic disorder, you’ll feel sudden fear that brings on a panic attack. During a panic attack, you may experience:
- Trembling or shaking
- Heart palpitations
- A feeling of being out of control
- Sensations of shortness of breath, choking, or smothering
People with panic attacks live with a constant fear of when the next attack or episode will occur. They try to prevent future attacks by staying at home and avoiding places and behaviors that trigger attacks. What Causes a Panic Attack? It’s not known what causes panic attacks, but factors that may play a role include:
- Long periods of stress
- Activities that lead to intense physical reactions such as exercises
- A sudden change of environment
Panic attacks can be treated with various techniques, including stress management, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, and medications.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder, commonly known as GAD, is characterized by chronic anxiety and intense tension even when there are no anxiety triggers. If you have GAD, you’ll experience fear that is difficult to control. People with this anxiety disorder spend most of their time excessively thinking or mulling over events in the future—possible outcomes and how to deal with them.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event, causing flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. Types of events that can lead to PTSD include:
- Military combats
- Harm-causing natural disasters
- Physical or sexual assaults
- Childbirth experiences
Like most mental illnesses, there is no definitive cure for PTSD. However, many treatments exist that can alleviate the symptoms. Possible treatment methods include psychotherapy, virtual reality exposure, medication, and alternative treatments like yoga and acupuncture.
- Social Phobia
Social phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by extreme fear of being judged by others in social places. People with social phobia often experience high anxiety levels when in social gatherings and usually try to avoid such events due to the fear of embarrassment.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes recurring unwanted thoughts or sensations. People with OCD often perform specific, repeated behaviors (compulsions) such as handwashing, biting their nails, etc. These behaviors can negatively interfere with your social life. However, they might not disrupt your daily life.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by an irrational fear of being away from home or loved ones. The feeling is often beyond what is appropriate for the person’s age.
Other Types of Anxiety
The 5th Edition of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders also lists other less-common types of anxiety disorders. These include:
- Selective mutism
- Illness anxiety disorder
Although the risk factors of each type of anxiety disorder can vary, common risk factors for generally all types of anxiety disorders include stress, physical health conditions, and temperamental traits.
What are the Treatments for Anxiety?
Treatments for anxiety will consist of a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy. In some cases, you can treat anxiety at home without clinical supervision. However, this may not be effective for severe or long-term anxiety disorders. Typical exercises to cope with milder anxiety disorders include:
- Physical activities to dispel negative thoughts
- Relaxation techniques like yoga
- Stress management, and
- Support network
Severe anxiety symptoms can be countered with medication. Examples of medicines that might control some mental and physical symptoms include antidepressants, tricyclics, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.
Anxiety disorders affect nearly 1 in 5 American adults each year. The good thing about anxiety is that almost all anxiety disorders are treatable. If you feel that you or your loved ones are experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an effort to reach out to your care providers for guidance and medication.