Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but people with anxiety disorders experience frequent and severe worry that disrupts their normal life.
What is anxiety?
Feeling anxiety before a specific event, such as a test, is normal.
Usually, anxiety is temporary. But someone with an anxiety disorder experiences regular, severe worry. The anxiety may be debilitating and prevent them from doing their normal activities.
Anxiety disorders are common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 19.1% of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.
Types of anxiety disorder
Agoraphobia is the fear of space where it is difficult to escape or receive help if something goes wrong.People with this type of phobia tend to avoid specific places or situations. For example, they might avoid crowds or public transport. Some people may become housebound in severe cases.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves constant worrying over everyday things. The anxiety might have no clear cause or trigger. This chronic condition can cause trouble sleeping, irritability, and muscle tension.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes distressing, intrusive thoughts that a person may manage by carrying out repetitive behaviors that provide temporary relief.
Examples include compulsively washing the hands in fear of contamination. If a person does not perform the compulsion, they may feel more anxious as a result.
Agoraphobia is one type of phobia, or fear. However, many other phobias exist. Some are common and relatively mild, such as a fear of spiders, or arachnophobia. Others may be more disruptive to a person’s life.
Those with panic disorder are prone to panic attacks. These panic attacks cause physical symptoms similar to a heart attack.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person experiences trauma. For example, someone may develop PTSD after an accident, assault, or a natural disaster.In some people, symptoms are temporary. But others will experience PTSD over long periods.
People who have this rare disorder avoid speaking, despite having the ability to do so. Those with selective mutism are typically very shy. They fear social judgment and embarrassment.
Separation anxiety is common in children, but adults also experience it. People with this type of anxiety disorder have an intense fear of separation from the people who are close to them in their lives.
Social anxiety disorder
People with this anxiety disorder have an intense fear of social interactions. They typically fear social humiliation and worry about judgment from others.
What is an anxiety attack?
An anxiety or panic attack involves a sudden burst of intense anxiety that produces physical symptoms. The symptoms might include difficulty breathing, chest pain, and dizziness.
Some people use the terms anxiety attack and panic attack interchangeably. Panic attacks can last as long as anywhere from 5–30 minutes.
Having a panic attack is frightening, and people who experience them are usually fearful of triggering another. Some people go to great lengths to avoid certain situations that might produce another episode.
Symptoms of a panic attack
Symptoms of a panic attack are not life threatening despite their intensity. They include:
- panting and shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- increased heart rate
- hot and cold flushes
Some people experience these kinds of symptoms with their regular anxiety. What makes a panic attack different is how intense and sudden the physical sensations are.
Causes of anxiety
The causes of anxiety are complex. Some potential causes of an anxiety disorder might include:
- Environment: A person’s life experiences, upbringing, and home environment have a significant impact on whether someone develops anxiety. A 2014 study suggests that some parenting styles increase the risk of anxiety disorders.
- Genetics: People with a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to develop one.
- Health conditions: Some health problems might cause anxiety symptoms, such as thyroid or heart conditions.
Females are also more likely than males to develop an anxiety disorder.
There are effective treatment options for anxiety disorders. The type of treatment will vary depending on the anxiety disorder.
Some anxiety treatments include:
Talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are a standard treatment for anxiety disorders. CBT teaches individuals with anxiety to approach their anxious feelings and thoughts differently. CBT can also involve exposure therapy for treating phobias, which means a person gradually and intentionally exposing themselves to their fear.
In some cases, medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, may help reduce the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. These are helpful for people who have severe symptoms.
A doctor may prescribe beta-blockers to someone with panic disorder. Beta-blockers can help with the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat and shaking.
Some self-care strategies can help a person manage anxiety in their daily life. People with severe anxiety should not use these methods to replace help from a mental health professional.
Support groups can provide people with anxiety a place to talk about their experiences with others who understand their condition. Additionally, being involved in spiritual groups that focus on compassion and forgiveness may help some people with anxiety.
Activities that calm the nervous system can help ease anxiety, such as:
- spending time in nature
- meditation and mindfulness
- activities a person finds fun
Substances such as caffeine and some nutritional deficiencies can make anxiety worse. Additionally, getting enough exercise and eating a nutrient-rich diet can help to reduce it.
A person with an anxiety disorder may feel some benefits from:
- reducing caffeine intake
- focusing on eating whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and fish
- getting regular exercise
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and change, but anxiety disorders are highly disruptive conditions. There are many types of anxiety disorder, including PTSD, OCD, GAD, and phobias.
Treatment for an anxiety disorder might include a combination of therapy and medication. People should seek help for anxiety that regularly affects their normal life.