Everyone experiences anxiety. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress are overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday things, an anxiety disorders the cause. Anxiety disorders are the most common health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18%, have an anxiety disorder. 8% of children and teenagers experience the negative impact of an anxiety disorder at school and home.
Just like with any mental health condition, people with anxiety disorders experience symptoms differently. But for most people, anxiety changes how the function day-to-day. People can experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Emotional symptoms
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Restlessness or irritability
- Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger
- Physical symptoms
- Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
- Sweating, tremors and twitches
- Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
- Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea
Types of anxiety disorders
Different anxiety disorders have various symptoms. This also means that each type of anxiety disorder has its own treatment plan. The most common anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder Characterized by panic attacks – sudden feelings of terror – sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful, physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset.
- Phobias Most people with specific phobias have several triggers. To avoid panicking, someone with specific phobias will work hard to avoid their triggers. Depending on the type and number of triggers, this fear and the attempt to control it can seem to take over a person’s life.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension, or nausea.
- Social anxiety disorder Unlike shyness, this disorder causes intense fear, often driven by irrational worries about social humiliation – “saying something stupid,” or “not knowing what to say”. Someone with social anxiety disorder may not participate in conversations, contribute to class discussions, or often their ideas, and may become isolated. Panic attack symptoms are a common reaction.
Scientists believe that many factors combine to cause anxiety disorders:
- Genetics Research has shown that anxiety disorders run in families. This can be a factor in someone developing an anxiety disorder.
- Stress A stressful or traumatic situation such as abuse, death of a loved one, violence or prolonged illness is often linked to the development of an anxiety disorder.
The physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder can be easily confused with other medical conditions like heart disease or hyperthyroidism. Therefore, a doctor will perform an evaluation involving a physical examination, an interview and lab tests. After ruling out physical illness, the doctor may recommend a person see a mental health professional to make a diagnosis.
As each anxiety disorder has a different set of symptoms, the types of treatment that a mental health professional may suggest can vary. Common types of treatment used include:
- Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Medications including anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants
- Complementary health approaches, including meditation, exercise, nutrition and equine (horse)
NAMI Peer-to-Peer 2018