What Are Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety disorder is when your anxiety gets out of control and starts to affect your life. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders that are characterized by persistent, excessive, and unreasonable worry or fear. People with anxiety disorders may experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and trembling. They may also have difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety disorders can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life and can lead to avoidance of certain activities or situations.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting more than 18% of the population. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, preventing people from leading normal, productive lives. Meanwhile, approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 experience issues with anxiety each year. Most people develop symptoms before age 21.

General Types and Symptoms

Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience at times. However, people with anxiety disorders experience anxiety that is intense and persistent. It can be disabling and interfere with your ability to lead a normal life. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder

(GAD) is a mental disorder characterized by persistent worry and anxiety over many different areas of life? People with GAD may find it hard to control their worry and may feel anxious most days, even if there is little or nothing to trigger the anxiety.GAD can cause physical symptoms such as restlessness, a racing heart, sweating, and dizziness. It can also lead to difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, and feeling irritable or on edge.

Left untreated, GAD can have a significant impact on quality of life. It can lead to problems with work, school, and personal relationships. It can also lead to other mental health problems such as depression or substance abuse.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is a mental disorder characterized by recurring severe Panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and often do not have a clear trigger.

Panic disorder is diagnosed when a person has repeated Panic attacks and is worried about having more attacks. Panic disorder can be very disabling and can interfere with a person’s ability to work, go to school, or carry out other activities. Panic disorder is treated with medication, counseling, and sometimes hospitalization.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by a significant amount of fear in one or more social situations, causing considerable distress and impairment in the ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. These fears can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. Social anxiety disorder is different from shyness; it is a chronic condition that can cause significant distress and interfere with daily functioning. Most people with social anxiety disorder experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:

  • Situations in which they think they are being watched or evaluated, such as public speaking or job interviews
  • Social interactions, such as meeting new people or talking to authority figures
  • Performance situations, such as public speaking or playing sports

People with a social anxiety disorder may worry about these situations for weeks or months in advance. They may experience intense fears of being judged by others and may be very self-conscious in social settings. Physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, blushing, or trembling may occur in some people.

Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting 15 million adults in the United States. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence and can cause lasting distress and impairments in functioning. With treatment, most people with social anxiety disorder can improve their symptoms.

There are two types of treatments that are effective for a social anxiety disorder: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications. CBT is a type of therapy that helps people change their thinking and behavior patterns. Medications are also effective for many people and can be used alone or in combination with CBT.

Specific phobias

Specific phobias are irrational fears of specific objects or situations. People with specific phobias often go to great lengths to avoid the object or situation they fear. Specific phobias can be divided into five main categories: animal phobias, natural environment phobias, blood-injection-injury phobias, situational phobias, and other phobias.

Animal phobias are the most common type of specific phobia. Animal phobias include fears of snakes, spiders, rodents, birds, and dogs. Natural environment phobias include fear of heights, water, storms, and flying. A blood-injection-injury phobia is a fear of blood or injury. Situational phobias include fear of enclosed spaces, public transportation, and bridges. Other phobias include fear of choking, clowns, and commitment.

Most people with specific phobias realize that their fear is irrational, but they are unable to control their anxiety. Specific phobias can cause significant distress and interfere with work, school, and social activities.

Specific phobias affect approximately 19.2 million adults or about 8.7% of the U.S. population ages 18 and older in a given year. Women are slightly more likely than men to be affected by specific phobias. Most people with specific phobias experience significant distress and impairment in daily functioning.

These phobias usually develop in childhood or adolescence but can occur at any age. Often, people with specific phobias realize that their fear is irrational, but they are unable to control it.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to seek professional help. These disorders are treatable with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Causes, Risk Factors, and Complications

Researchers don’t know exactly what brings on anxiety disorders. A complex mix of things plays a role in who does and doesn’t get one.  These disorders can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life events. Some people may be more vulnerable to anxiety disorders than others. Risk factors for developing disorders include:

  • Family history of anxiety or other mental disorders
  • Exposure to traumatic events
  • Chronic medical conditions

Complications can include depression, substance abuse, and difficulty functioning in work or school. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to serious health problems.

Diagnosis and Test – How to Examine the Disorder

The first step is to see your doctor make sure there is no physical problem causing the symptoms. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, a mental health professional can work with you on finding the best treatment. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed based on a clinical assessment. This assessment includes a review of symptoms and medical history. A physical examination may also be conducted to rule out other medical conditions. Laboratory tests are not typically used to diagnose anxiety disorders. However, your doctor may order blood tests to rule out other medical conditions. Imaging studies are also not typically used to diagnose these disorders. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation.

Management and Medical Treatment

There are several different ways to manage and treat anxiety disorders. The most effective approach depends on the individual and the severity of their condition.

Some people may only require lifestyle changes and self-care, while others may need medication and therapy. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

Lifestyle changes that can help to manage anxiety include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation

Medication can also be used to treat anxiety disorders. The most common types of medication are anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

Therapy is another effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy used to treat anxiety. CBT helps people to identify and change negative thinking and behavior patterns that contribute to anxiety.

Hospitalization may be necessary in severe cases of anxiety when someone is at risk of harming themselves or others. During a hospital stay, people will receive intensive treatment and support.

If you are struggling with anxiety, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. With proper treatment, many people with anxiety disorders can lead happy and fulfilling lives.


It can be challenging and frustrating to live with an anxiety disorder. The constant worry and fear can make you feel tired and scared. Your worries may not go away on their own, and they may get worse over time if you don’t seek help. If you’ve talked to a doctor about your symptoms, then you’ve taken the first step toward letting go of the worry. See your doctor or a mental health provider before your anxiety gets worse. It’s easier to treat if you get help early.

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