Anxiety is a condition described as the excessive feeling of worry, unease, or dread. Anxiety can be treated by a primary care physician, therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist. Having anxiety about a situation or an impending event without a clear-cut outcome is a normal part of life. You may feel anxious before a major deadline at work while studying for a looming test, or while facing a big decision at home. Though most people feel anxious at some point in their daily life, when it becomes intense, episodic, and unmanageable, it may be due to an underlying anxiety disorder.
Not all those who have anxiety disorders are triggered by the same thing. There are many types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and many types of phobias.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe conditions such as agoraphobia (fear of places or situations that may cause panic), social anxiety, separation anxiety, panic disorder, and more. Each of these disorders is accompanied by different symptoms and complications.
People with anxiety disorders experience these feelings of worry and fear intensely and persistently. The symptoms associated with anxiety may not go away, and may actually get worse over time. If left untreated, anxiety may eventually interfere with work or school performance, personal relationships, and other functions of daily life. Anxiety disorders are very common; the National Institute on Mental Health estimates that over 40 million adults in the United States (19.1%) have some form of anxiety disorder.
For some people, anxiety is manifested in physical symptoms. These can include:
- Chest pains
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling weak
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Increased heart rate
Causes of Anxiety
Though the causes of anxiety aren’t yet fully understood, anxiety does have a host of triggers including social situations, trauma, life events, specific phobias, medicine, and medical conditions. There are a lot of risk factors that make a person more likely to have an anxiety disorder.
- Personality: Research has shown that some personality types may be more prone to bouts of anxiety.
- Mental health disorders: Some mental health disorders such as depression are often linked to anxiety.
- Traumatic experiences: Individuals who are exposed to traumatic events as children are at higher risk for developing anxiety as an adult.
- Stress: Stress from an illness, work deadlines, divorces, or deaths in the family can make one more likely to have anxiety.
- Genetics: Anxiety can be passed down through the family genes. If a person has a blood relative who suffers from an anxiety disorder there is a chance that person will also have an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
- Drugs or Alcohol: The withdrawal, use, or misuse of a drug can put a person at a higher risk for anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a broad term used to describe several different types of conditions. The various forms of anxiety include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Generalized anxiety disorder is described as a chronic feeling of exaggerated worry or anxiety, though there may be no obvious source of what's causing it. These anxiety attacks are often episodic. People who have GAD may also have other anxiety disorders, as well as depression.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A person with OCD may have frequent manic thoughts (obsessive) and/or behavior (compulsive). Behaviors such as washing your hands many times, checking light switches, alarms, or the oven repeatedly, and/or the need to have something in a particular order to clear obsessive thoughts from the mind are some examples linked to OCD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This type of anxiety is brought about by a traumatic event in which a person was or could have been harmed, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, military combat, or domestic violence. Symptoms of PTSD may include flashbacks, severe anxiety, or obsessive thoughts regarding the event(s).
Panic disorder: People suffering from a panic disorder may feel sudden bouts of intense fear, or panic attacks, that are often paired with physical symptoms including but not limited to a fast heart rate, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, or the general feeling of being out of control.
Selective mutism: This is a complex anxiety disorder that affects children. A child who has selective mutism may have the ability to speak in safe, relaxed situations but may find themselves unable to talk in social situations. Though many kids will grow out of this type of disorder, in some cases if left untreated other anxiety disorders may develop and persist.
Separation Anxiety Disorder: A childhood anxiety disorder in which a child has excessive anxiety from a parent or guardian leaving the child, even for a short amount of time.
Substance-induced anxiety disorder: A person with a substance-induced anxiety disorder may have intense anxiety from overuse, use, exposure, or withdrawal from a particular substance or toxin.
Anxiety disorder caused by a medical condition: This is caused by a physical health problem. Conditions such as heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, chronic pulmonary disease or COPD, thyroid issues such as hyperthyroidism, and chronic pain can be linked to anxiety.
Many phobias also fall under the umbrella of anxiety. These include:
Agoraphobia: People with agoraphobia have a fear of being in situations in which they cannot, or may not be able to escape. Places like shopping malls, subways, and crowded or open areas may cause those with agoraphobia to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Some people with agoraphobia may even find it hard to leave their homes.
Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder: A person with social phobia may find themselves unable to be in social interactions. Anxiety and extreme self-consciousness are symptoms that are linked to this disorder. This anxiety can be triggered by acute circumstances like having to deliver a public presentation, for example. Social phobia can also be felt more chronically, applying to a wide range of social scenarios.
Specific phobia: This is a phobia that is caused by a trigger that often poses little or no threat. This irrational fear can be of a specific object, situation, or activity. This category is wide-ranging and covers a host of topics such as acrophobia (fear of heights), agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces), claustrophobia (fear of small or enclosed spaces), and ailurophobia (fear of cats).
If you are looking for more information about anxiety, check out the NIMH’s page on Anxiety Disorders: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders