What is anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that entails excessive, repeated bouts of worry, anxiety, and/or fear.
Feeling nervous or apprehensive is normal – even healthy at times. After all, that “fight or flight” feeling is what incentivizes you to prepare for a test or presentation, or makes your palms sweaty before a first date. But when anxiety runs deeper and feels unshakeable, it can potentially stand in the way of a healthy lifestyle.
When worrying becomes the go-to response to everyday situations, it becomes debilitating.
How common is anxiety?
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States aged 18 and up – which is more than 18% of the population.
Also, some studies indicate that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are cumulatively the most common mental illnesses in the United States.
What are some symptoms of anxiety?
Symptoms of anxiety will vary, based on type. Here are some typical examples:
Excessive worrying: Spending a disproportionate amount of time worrying about “what could happen,” especially as pertains to everyday activities. Individuals who worry excessively are often constantly expecting the worst outcome to situations.
Physically uncomfortable symptoms: Such as a fast heartbeat, dry mouth, or a “lump in throat” feeling.
Trouble sleeping: You might have trouble falling or staying asleep, and wake up feeling unrefreshed.
Difficulty concentrating: Your mind goes blank when you’re trying to focus.
Rumination: You find yourself repeatedly going over a thought, problem, or situation without finding a solution.
Panic attacks: You have experienced an overwhelming, often unpredictable sensation with strong symptoms that may feel like a heart attack.
Chest pain may either accompany a panic attack, or appear independently.
Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances: The occurrence of stomach aches, digestion issues, heart burn, nausea, etc., without a clear physical cause.
Different types of anxiety disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
Persistent and excessive worry and anxiety that gets in the way of daily activities. Physical symptoms of anxiety, such as tiredness or fatigue, headaches, and nausea, are not uncommon.
Intense discomfort in social settings. Anxiety is triggered during social events like parties, and also when faced with tasks like public speaking, speaking with authority figures, or stating an opinion.
Individuals with selective mutism are unable to speak in certain situations, such as classroom or work settings. It is more common in children than in adults.
Recurring panic attacks and/or other symptoms of anxiety, like chest pain, tingling hands, or breathing difficulty; constant worry that you will experience another.
Avoiding certain situations (e.g., public spaces, heights) or objects due to fear.
Agoraphobia entails fear or anxiety regarding certain situations where no “escape” is possible, and can prevent individuals from leaving the home, being in crowds, or using public transport. Agoraphobia typically develops after one or more panic attacks.
Anxiety that is directly caused by the use of certain substances, including caffeine, alcohol, or some medications.
Unspecified Anxiety Disorder: Meeting some, but not all, criteria for an anxiety diagnosis.
Additionally, many mental health professionals consider the following anxiety disorders, and treat them as such:
Separation Anxiety Disorder
A condition in which an individual (typically a child) become worried beyond consolation at the thought of being separated from his or her principal caregiver.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder marked by intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause a sense of distress or anxiety and/or repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, checking) that the person feels they must perform to reduce anxiety and distress or prevent something terrible from happening.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a disorder that develops after exposure to a particularly traumatic experience. It can start days, months, or even years after the event. PTSD is typically manifested as intense emotional and physical reactions, like flashbacks, nightmares, extra sensitive startle response, and avoiding situations or thoughts/feelings that remind the person of the trauma.
What to do if you have anxiety
If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing levels of anxiety that are above normal, here are steps you can take to improve and alleviate symptoms:
Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you navigate your anxiety with proven tools and techniques. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist for anxiety.)
Yoga for anxiety: Certain classes and poses are designed to reduce anxiety.
Breathing exercises: Try the 4-7-8 exercise to quell anxieties as they arise.
Exercise: Studies show that aerobic activity can prevent panic disorders from recurring.
Check-ups: Stay up-to-date on medical appointments, including your annual wellness visit with your primary care physician. She or he can help you rule out any physical conditions with symptoms that are similar to anxiety (e.g., anemia, overactive thyroid, etc.).
What should I look for in a therapist for anxiety?
Therapists differ in their approaches to treating anxiety. Common approaches include:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Find therapists specializing in anxiety near you