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Learn about anxiety disorders and ways to deal with them

Anxiety disorders are a group of related mental conditions that include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, and simple phobias. Anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of psychiatric medications and psychotherapy.


Anxiety and stress are all part of most people’s daily life. Just because you feel anxious or stressed, however, does not mean that you need professional help or that you have an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety is an important and sometimes necessary warning sign of a dangerous or difficult situation. Without worry, we will have no way to anticipate and prepare for the difficulties ahead.

When does anxiety disorder become a serious condition

Anxiety becomes a disorder when symptoms become chronic, and they interfere with our daily life and ability to function. People with chronic anxiety often have the following symptoms:

  • Became muscular.
  • Physical weakness.
  • Poor memory.
  • Sweaty hands.
  • Fear or confusion.
  • Inability to relax.
  • Constant anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Palpitations.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Poor concentration.

These symptoms are severe and disruptive enough to make individuals feel extremely uncomfortable, powerless, and helpless.

Anxiety disorders fall into a group of separate diagnoses, depending on the symptoms and the severity of the anxiety a person experiences. Anxiety disorders share an expectation of a future threat, but they differ in the types of situations or things that trigger fearful or avoidance behavior. Different types of anxiety disorder also have different types of unhealthy thoughts associated with them.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the United States. The most common type of anxiety disorder is known as “simple phobia,” which includes a phobia of things like snakes or of a high place. Up to 9 percent of the population can be diagnosed with this disorder in any year. Also common are social anxiety disorder (social phobia, about 7%) – fear and avoidance of social situations – and generalized anxiety disorder (about 3%).

Anxiety disorders are easily treated with a combination of psychotherapy and anti-anxiety medications. Many people who take medications to treat anxiety disorders can take them on an as-needed basis, for the specific situation that is causing the anxiety reaction.

Symptoms of anxiety

Most people experience transient symptoms associated with anxiety disorders at some point in their lives. Feelings like these – shortness of breath, feeling your heartbeat for no apparent reason, or feeling dizzy, usually pass quickly, and don’t come back easily. But when you come back again, it could be a sign that the fleeting feelings of anxiety have turned into an anxiety disorder.

The main types of anxiety disorders include:


  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
  • Panic disorder.
  • Agoraphobia.
  • Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia).
  • Specific phobic symptoms (also known as simple phobias).

Causes and diagnosis

Anxiety can be caused by many factors, ranging from external stimuli, emotional abandonment, shame, and experiencing an intense reaction when first exposed to something anxious. Research has not yet clarified why some people experience a panic attack or develop a phobia, while others bring up the same family and shared experiences do not. It’s possible that anxiety disorders, like all mental illnesses, are caused by a complex set of factors that are not yet fully understood. These factors likely include childhood development, genetic factors, neuropsychological factors, personal development, and social and environmental cues.

Like most mental disorders, anxiety disorders are best diagnosed by a mental health professional – a specialist who is trained in the accurate diagnosis of mental disorders (such as a psychiatrist).

Anxiety treatment

Anxiety treatment focuses on a two-pronged approach for most people, which focuses on the use of psychotherapy along with the occasional use of anti-anxiety medication on an as-needed basis. Most types of anxiety can be successfully treated with only psychotherapy – and behavioral and cognitive behavioral approaches have been shown to be very effective. Anti-anxiety medications tend to be quick-acting and have a short effect, which means they leave a person’s system fairly quickly (compared to other psychiatric medications, which can take weeks or even months to completely leave).

The type of treatment that is most effective generally depends on the specific type of anxiety disorder diagnosed.

Coping with and managing anxiety

What is the feeling of living with an anxiety disorder on a daily basis? Is it always difficult, or are there specific strategies that can be used to make it easier during the day and successfully manage anxiety? Anxiety disorders are so common that we might assume that a person can live their lives and that he still occasionally has episodes of anxiety (or anxious situations).

Get help

Peer support for anxiety disorders is often a helpful component of treatment.

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are sometimes considered anxiety disorders, they are covered in another area independently.


National Institute of Mental Health . National Institutes of Health, United States Department of Health and Human Services.


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