What is Anxiety Disorder?

We all feel worried from time to time. But if worry is consuming your life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can affect your work, relationships, self-esteem, and other aspects of your life. One in five adults in the U.S. lives with an anxiety disorder. There are several main types of anxiety disorders; all are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety, both of which impact behavior:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Characterized by chronic worry and feelings of fear or dread that are present more often than not; individuals may feel irritable, their muscles may be tense, they may experience sleep difficulties, and more.  
  • Panic Disorder - Experiencing sudden episodes of paralyzing fear with physical symptoms like shortness of breath, fainting, sweating, trembling, and more. 
  • Social Phobia - Extreme fear and avoidance of meeting new people, experiencing new situations or speaking, eating, or going out in public
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - This condition may develop after exposure to extreme mental and/or physical trauma

Anxiety disorders affect men and women equally, and can impact people from all walks of life. Anxiety disorders are also the most common psychological disorders in children. 

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Each anxiety disorder has unique symptoms. Not everyone who has an anxiety disorder will display the same symptoms. Some symptoms are common indicators that you might have an anxiety disorder. You should talk to your doctor about treatment for your anxiety. Some symptoms that could indicate that you have an anxiety disorder are:

  • Feeling restless or on edge all the time
  • Being unable to make either simple or complex decisions
  • Extreme shyness, especially when meeting new people or entering a new social situation
  • Trouble concentrating or controlling racing thoughts
  • Paranoia, or feeling that you are in danger when you are not
  • Experiencing fear or worry about a situation that is consuming and greater than what others feel
  • Sleep problems, including problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • A reliance on ritualized behavior in order to “prevent bad things from happening”
  • Altering your behaviors or way of life to accommodate your worries
  • Having panic attacks, including shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, weakness or dizziness, and other physical symptoms
  • Your worries affect your performance at work, school, or in relationships
  • Extreme fear of being alone or separated from a person or object
  • Paralyzing fear that others are talking about you or making fun of you
  • Fear that you are not good enough or exhibiting unattainable perfectionism

Anxiety Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

Anxiety disorders can be caused by a number of factors including biological, psychological, and environmental stress. Some risk factors for anxiety disorders include:

  • Extreme trauma in childhood or adulthood, including exposure to war or violence
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Childhood abuse
  • Genetics: if someone else in your family has an anxiety disorder, your risk increases
  • Your brain structure or function
  • Withdrawal during treatment for substance use disorders
  • The death of a loved one, divorce, or another form of trauma that leads to separation
  • Physical trauma including brain injuries, sexual assault, choking, being in an accident, surviving a disaster, or suffering an injury

Anxiety Disorder Treatment

Anxiety disorders are treatable in a variety of ways. Your care team can help you find the right combination of medication, therapy, and support to help you manage your anxiety disorder. 

Medication: Anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-psychotic medications can help get your thoughts back on track. Talk to a doctor to learn more.

Therapy: Therapy can be extremely effective in treating anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, talk therapy, and other types of therapy are available at Sheppard Pratt. Learn more about your therapy options.

Education: Learning more about anxiety disorders, things that can trigger them, and advances in anxiety treatment can help you and your family feel more in control. Get more information about mental health. 

Support: The right support can help you make progress and feel more confident. Find a support group through Sheppard Pratt.