Anxiety Disorders

Over 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. While anxiety is a part of life, those suffering from anxiety disorders experience anxious feelings seemingly for no reason and in a manner that can be debilitating to the point where it interferes with daily life.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder is a type of mental disorder where the person suffering experiences uncontrollable and sometimes extreme anxiety. What separates “normal” anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, their anxiety level often impacts their daily lives.

If you are unsure if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I experiencing physical signs of anxiety, such as excessive sweating and a pounding heart?
  • Is my anxiety interfering with my ability to function?
  • Am I unable to control how I react to certain situations?
  • Do I often overreact when something triggers my anxiety or emotions?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you might suffer from an anxiety disorder. You should talk to your healthcare provider or a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

People that suffer from anxiety disorder experience physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Many of these symptoms can become debilitating, causing a person to struggle with managing their daily lives.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Common physical symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Muscle tension or spasms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart attack

Mental and Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety

For those suffering from anxiety disorders, the symptoms and side effects go far beyond physical, and many people suffer mentally and emotionally.

Some mental and emotional symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Intense fear
  • Actively trying to avoid situations and scenarios that trigger anxiety
  • Experiencing feelings of restlessness, tenseness, and nervousness
  • Experiencing feelings of panic, danger, or doom
  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Having trouble thinking about anything other than your current anxiety

Common Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for various anxiety-based mental health disorders.

Some of the more common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by experiencing anxiety or dread to the point where it can interfere with a person’s everyday life. This anxiety or worry can last weeks, months, or even years.

Some common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling restless or on-edge
  • Sleep problems
  • Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and pains
  • Having trouble controlling feelings of worry
  • Fatigue

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where someone might live in a chronic state of anxiety due to obsessions and compulsions. The loop of obsessions leading to compulsions can cause a constant cycle of anxiety.

Examples of OCD include:

  • Unpleasant thoughts or images
  • Fear of losing or misplacing things
  • Constantly wondering if you did something or did it right
  • Repeatedly washing your hands, showering, brushing your teeth, etc
  • Counting the same thing repeatedly
  • Constantly checking locks or appliances
  • Ordering items in a specific order or in a particular way

Panic Disorder

Frequent and unexplained panic attacks characterize panic disorder. Someone suffering from a panic attack might experience extreme discomfort, fear, and a sense of losing control.

Additional symptoms that are common with a panic disorder include:

  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Trembling
  • Actively avoiding certain situations, places, or behaviors to try and prevent a panic attack
  • Constant worry about when the next panic attack might happen

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing a traumatic event. Events that cause PTSD can be dangerous, life-threatening, shocking, or scary. Reliving or even thinking about the event or events can lead to extreme feelings of anxiety and dread.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Trying to avoid anything that might trigger memories of the traumatic event
  • Constantly being on edge
  • Experiencing negative thoughts or feelings such as guilt, sadness, or numbness
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Having flashbacks or dreams from the event

Social Anxiety Disorder

Someone suffering from a social anxiety disorder, such as social phobia or agoraphobia, may experience anxiety and dread at just the thought of having to be in social situations. These feelings might be so severe that they actively avoid everyday events like going to work or school.

Some symptoms associated with Social Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Excess sweating
  • Trembling
  • Stomachaches
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Rigid posture
  • Speaking very softly
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Feeling self-conscious around other people

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders affect close to 30% of adults at some point.

Below is a breakdown of the estimated percentage of U.S. adults that suffer from various anxiety disorders every year:

  • Specific Phobia: 8-12%
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: 7%
  • PTSD: 3-4%
  • Panic Disorder: 2-3%
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: 2%
  • Agoraphobia: 1-2.9% (adolescents and adults)
  • OCD: 2-3%

Anxiety Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

Just because someone experiences anxiety doesn’t automatically mean they are either suffering from or will develop an anxiety disorder. However, certain risk factors and causes can increase the chances of developing an anxiety disorder.

Below are some common causes and risk factors associated with anxiety disorder:

  • Genetics: Someone who has anxiety disorders run in their family is more likely to develop one themselves
  • Substance use and addiction: Using and abusing certain illicit substances can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can lead to the worsening of anxiety symptoms, including lung, thyroid, and heart conditions
  • Brain chemistry: Researchers have found that a chemical imbalance in the brain can lead to anxiety disorders
  • Environmental stress: Traumatic events such as abuse, violence, and death of a loved one can lead to an anxiety disorder, specifically PTSD
  • Low self-esteem: Negative perceptions of yourself can lead to an anxiety disorder, specifically social anxiety disorder

Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Many who suffer from an anxiety disorder don’t seek mental health treatment for their condition. They might be too afraid or ashamed to seek help or unsure how to get the help they need.

In those situations, it is not uncommon for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder to turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate to feel better or even normal again. While in the short-term, self-medicating might seem like a solution to their anxiety disorder issues, it can worsen their anxiety disorder symptoms and lead to addiction.

Those currently suffering from addiction might also experience symptoms associated with anxiety disorders as a side effect of their substance use and abuse.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

While there is no known cure for anxiety disorder, it is treatable. The most successful forms of treatment for anxiety disorders are psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a popular treatment method for those suffering from an anxiety disorder because it can help get to the bottom of what led to the development of the condition in the first place. Psychotherapy also teaches healthier and more productive ways of dealing with these thoughts, feelings, and triggers in the future.

Forms of psychotherapy commonly used when treating anxiety disorders include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Stress Management

Medications for Anxiety

Doctors may prescribe various medications to help ease some anxiety disorder symptoms. Some of these medications include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Buspirone
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Anxiety Support Groups

Many people struggling with mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders might feel isolated or that nobody around them can understand what they are going through.

For those people, being around others who not only know what they are going through but have similar experiences can be a great way to work through the issues associated with their anxiety disorder.

Organizations such as the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) offer support groups for those suffering from an anxiety disorder both in person and virtually.

Find Help For Anxiety Disorders

No matter what type of anxiety disorder you suffer from, it’s important to remember that it is ok to ask for help. Reach out to your primary doctor or a licensed mental healthcare professional to learn how you can get treatment for your anxiety disorder.

FAQs About Anxiety

What are the top five anxiety disorders?

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the five most common anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural reaction your brain has to stress. Anxiety alerts you that potential danger is ahead. Anxiety can lead to:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues

Is anxiety a mental illness?

While anxiety alone is not a mental illness, anxiety disorders are all considered mental illnesses.

What is the difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread to the point where it can interfere with a person’s everyday life. Panic Disorder is characterized by frequent and unexplained panic attacks.

 

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?

Fear is a direct biological response to immediate danger occurring, while anxiety is an emotional response to the thought that something terrible might happen.

What is the most common type of anxiety disorder?

The most common type of anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Reviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Addiction Guide and ensures the quality of our website’s content and messaging.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

9 references
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  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, May 4). Anxiety disorders. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

  3. WebMD. (2022, April 24). Anxiety disorders: Types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment. WebMD. Retrieved November 16, from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders

  4. Anxiety disorders: Types, causes, symptoms & treatments. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders

  5. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9490-obsessive-compulsive-disorder#symptoms-and-causes

  6. Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD: Symptoms, treatment & definition. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9545-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd#symptoms-and-causes

  7. What are anxiety disorders? Psychiatry.org – What are Anxiety Disorders? (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, from https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders#section_10

  8. Anxiety disorders. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

  9. (DCD), D. C. D. (2021, October 20). What are the five major types of anxiety disorders? HHS.gov. Retrieved November 16, from https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-are-the-five-major-types-of-anxiety-disorders/index.html

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