What is anxiety disorder?
Anxiety has become a catch-all term for a number of uncomfortable feelings and behaviors, but there’s a real and diagnosable disorder too. Unlike the worrying or nervousness we all experience from time to time, an anxiety disorder can persist for a long period and worsen over time. Anxiety symptoms can also become severe enough to interfere with daily activities, school, work, and social relationships.
Anxiety disorder is actually a collection of disorders, each with their own subtle differences. We’ll review those differences a little later.
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Phobia-related disorders
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobia (fear of flying, fear of the number 13, etc.)
Where does anxiety disorder come from?
Although research suggests that genetic and environmental factors influence anxiety, there is strong evidence that people with childhood shyness, other temperamental traits, or with a biological family history of anxiety or mental illness are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder later. Exposure to abuse, trauma, and negative life events can increase the likelihood of that development.
Additional sources of anxiety include physical conditions (heart arrhythmias, thyroid irregularities), caffeine (coffee, tea, soda), and medication side effects. For this reason, a healthcare professional will often perform a physical health examination and ask questions about habits and current medications being taken. This reduces the chance of worsening the anxiety or missing a simpler solution, such as limiting caffeine consumption.
What anxiety disorder symptoms can I look for?
If you are or someone close to you is feeling more nervous or tense than usual or a child is always tense, there are ways to determine whether an anxiety disorder could be the cause. Here are symptoms that identify each of the three main categories.
Generalized anxiety disorder
- Restlessness or fidgetiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worry
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating, trembling, or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling loss of control or impending dread
- Experience irrational worry about a feared situation or object
- Experience immediate intense anxiety when encountering a feared situation or object
- Engage in active escape and avoidance behaviors when encountering a feared situation or object
How is anxiety disorder treated?
Work with a healthcare professional to determine the best treatment plan, but take reassurance from the fact that there are many effective options to choose from. It’s very likely that you’ll be able to find an effective solution that also fits your life.
Anxiety disorder treatment options include: cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback, medications (anti-anxiety, antidepressant, beta-blocker medications), or a combination of these.