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Anxiety Disorders

Over 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder. While anxiety is a part of life, people with anxiety disorders experience anxious feelings seemingly for no reason and in a manner that can be debilitating to the point where it interferes with a person’s daily activities.

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What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder is a type of mental disorder where a person experiences uncontrollable and sometimes extreme anxiety.

What separates “normal” anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that for those who have an anxiety disorder, their anxiety level often impacts their daily lives.

If you are unsure if you have an anxiety disorder, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I experiencing physical signs of anxiety, such as excessive sweating and a rapid heartbeat?
  • Is my anxiety interfering with my ability to function?
  • Am I unable to control how I react to certain situations?
  • Do I often overreact when something triggers my anxiety or emotions?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you might have an anxiety disorder. You should talk to your healthcare provider or a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

People with an anxiety disorder experience physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Many of these symptoms can become debilitating, causing a person to struggle managing their daily lives.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Common physical symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Muscle tension or spasms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart attack

Mental Symptoms of Anxiety

For people with anxiety disorders, the symptoms and side effects go far beyond physical, and many people feel the impacts both mentally and emotionally.

Some mental symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Intense fear
  • Actively trying to avoid situations and scenarios that trigger anxiety
  • Experiencing feelings of restlessness, tenseness, and nervousness
  • Experiencing feelings of panic, danger, or doom
  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Having trouble thinking about anything other than your current anxiety
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Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for various anxiety-based mental health disorders.

Some of the more common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by experiencing anxiety or dread to the point where it can interfere with a person’s everyday life. This anxiety or worry can last weeks, months, or even years.

Some common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Sleep problems
  • Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and pains
  • Having trouble controlling feelings of worry
  • Fatigue

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where someone might live in a chronic state of anxiety due to obsessions over behavior, routine, and thoughts.

They may also exhibit notably compulsive behaviors, such as rituals or repetitive behaviors (e.g., knocking, tapping, hand washing).

The loop of obsessions leading to compulsions can cause a constant cycle of anxiety.

Examples of OCD include:

  • Unpleasant thoughts or images
  • Fear of losing or misplacing things
  • Constantly wondering if you did something or did it right
  • Repeatedly washing your hands, showering, brushing your teeth, etc
  • Counting the same thing repeatedly
  • Constantly checking locks or appliances
  • Ordering items in a specific order or in a particular way

Panic Disorder

Frequent and unexplained panic attacks characterize panic disorder. Someone experiencing a panic attack will likely experience extreme discomfort, fear, and a sense of losing control.

Additional symptoms that are common with a panic disorder include:

  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Pounding or racing heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Actively avoiding certain situations, places, or behaviors to try and prevent a panic attack
  • Constant worry about when the next panic attack might happen

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing a traumatic event. Events that cause PTSD can be dangerous, life-threatening, shocking, or scary.

Reliving or even thinking about the event or events can lead to extreme feelings of anxiety and dread.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Trying to avoid anything that might trigger memories of the traumatic event
  • Constantly being on edge
  • Experiencing negative thoughts or feelings such as guilt, sadness, or numbness
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Having flashbacks or dreams from the event

Social Anxiety Disorder

Someone who has a social anxiety disorder may experience anxiety and dread at just the thought of having to be in social situations. Others may have more extreme social phobia (e.g., agoraphobia) and become unable to leave their homes without extreme mental distress.

These feelings might be so severe that they actively avoid everyday events like going to work or school.

Some symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder include:

  • Excess sweating
  • Trembling
  • Stomachaches
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Rigid posture
  • Speaking very softly or sometimes not at all (i.e., selective mutism)
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Feeling self-conscious around other people

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders affect close to 30% of adults at some point in their lives.

Below is a breakdown of the estimated percentage of U.S. adults who deal with various anxiety disorders every year:

  • Specific Phobia: 8-12%
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: 7%
  • PTSD: 3-4%
  • Panic Disorder: 2-3%
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: 2%
  • Agoraphobia: 1-2.9% (adolescents and adults)
  • OCD: 2-3%

Anxiety Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

Just because someone experiences anxiety doesn’t automatically mean they currently have or will develop an anxiety disorder. However, certain risk factors and causes can increase the chances of developing an anxiety disorder.

Below are some common causes and risk factors associated with anxiety disorder:

  • Genetics: Someone who has anxiety disorders run in their family is more likely to develop one themselves
  • Substance use and addiction: Using and abusing certain illicit substances can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can lead to the worsening of anxiety symptoms, including lung, thyroid, and heart conditions
  • Brain chemistry: Researchers have found that a chemical imbalance in the brain can lead to anxiety disorders
  • Environmental stress: Traumatic events such as abuse, violence, and death of a loved one can lead to an anxiety disorder, specifically PTSD
  • Low self-esteem: Negative perceptions of yourself can lead to an anxiety disorder, specifically social anxiety disorder
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Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Many individuals who have an anxiety disorder don’t seek mental health treatment for their condition. They might be too afraid or ashamed to seek help or unsure how to get the help they need.

In those situations, it is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating to feel better or even normal again.

While in the short-term, self-medicating might seem like a solution to their anxiety disorder issues, it can make their anxiety disorder symptoms worse and lead to addiction.

Those currently battling addiction might also experience symptoms associated with anxiety disorders as a side effect of their substance use and abuse.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

While there is no known cure for anxiety disorder, it is treatable. The most effective treatments for anxiety disorders are psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a popular treatment method for those who have an anxiety disorder because it can help get to the bottom of what led to the development of the condition in the first place.

Psychotherapy also teaches healthier and more productive ways of dealing with these thoughts, feelings, and triggers in the future.

Forms of psychotherapy commonly used when treating anxiety disorders include:

Medications

Doctors may prescribe various medications to help ease some anxiety disorder symptoms.

Some of these medications include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Buspirone
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Support Groups

Many people struggling with mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders might feel isolated or that nobody around them can understand what they are going through.

For those people, being around others who not only know what they are going through but have similar experiences can be a great way to work through the issues associated with their anxiety disorder.

Organizations such as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offer support groups for people with an anxiety disorder both in person and virtually.

Find Help for an Anxiety Disorder

No matter what type of anxiety disorder you might be dealing with, it’s important to remember that it is ok to ask for help. Reach out to your primary doctor or a licensed mental healthcare professional to learn how you can get treatment for your anxiety disorder.

The SAMHSA online treatment locator also has a section specifically about mental health treatment resources. You can call 1-800-662-4357 for referrals to therapists and counselors.

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FAQs About Anxiety Disorders

What are the most common anxiety disorders?

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the five most common anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural reaction your brain has to stress. Anxiety alerts you that potential danger is ahead.

Anxiety can lead to:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues

Is anxiety a mental illness?

While anxiety alone is not a mental illness, anxiety disorders are all considered mental illnesses.

What is the difference between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread to the point where it can interfere with a person’s everyday life. Panic Disorder is characterized by frequent and unexplained panic attacks.

What is the difference between anxiety and fear?

Fear is a direct biological response to immediate danger occurring, while anxiety is an emotional response to the thought that something terrible might happen.

What is the most common type of anxiety disorder?

The most common type of anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  2. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2023, April). https://www.hhs.gov/answers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse/what-are-the-five-major-types-of-anxiety-disorders/index.html
  3. Cleveland Clinic Medical. (2020, December 17). Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders
  4. Cleveland Clinic Medical. (2022, December 14). OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder): Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9490-obsessive-compulsive-disorder#symptoms-and-causes
  5. Cleveland Clinic Medical. (2023, October 6). PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder): Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9545-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd#symptoms-and-causes
  6. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, May 4). Anxiety Disorders. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, April). Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  8. WebMD. (2023, January 7). Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders
  9. What Are Anxiety Disorders?. Psychiatry.org. (2023, June). https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders#section_10

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