Anxiety is part of daily life and everyone experiences it at one time or another for a variety of causes, including ongoing stress, social situations, or conflict. In some circumstances, anxiety can be a help, keeping us vigilant and cautious. However, when feelings of stress and fear become overwhelming, they can interfere with activities of daily living.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Several distinct conditions fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, each with its own set of symptoms. What binds them together are the persistent feelings of fear and worry, even at times when no threat exists. Individuals who suffer anxiety often experience some combination of the following:
- Increased heart rate or feeling that the heart is pounding
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weakness or fatigue
- Feeling jumpy or tense
- Feelings of dread, panic, or doom
- Irritability or restlessness
- Trouble concentrating on anything besides the current worry
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The most common kinds of anxiety include:
Social Anxiety Disorder
While it may be confused with shyness, SAD can cause intense fear during social interaction and is often fueled by irrational worries about being embarrassed or humiliated. Individuals may become isolated as they avoid conversations, social settings, or even work or school settings. They may experience panic attacks when social interaction is forced or even anticipated.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder causes individuals to experience exaggerated and constant worry about their everyday lives. This persistent worrying can become so consuming that the person is unable to focus enough time on other tasks and obligations. It may deplete their physical energy, causing severe fatigue, headaches or nausea.
Panic disorders are characterized by sudden feelings of terror that come on without warning. Panic attacks may cause physical symptoms that mirror a heart attack, including heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and an upset stomach. Individuals with panic disorder may become isolated as they avoid situations that trigger their symptoms.
A phobia is characterized by feelings of extreme and irrational fear triggered by specific objects, places, or situations. Individuals with phobias may experience a deep sense of dread or panic when they encounter the source of their fear. These feelings can interfere with work, school, and personal relationships, potentially becoming debilitating.
The causes of anxiety are varied and may include:
- Medical causes, such as prolonged illnesses, substance use, or medication.
- Environmental causes, including traumatic experiences such as abuse or violence or stressful events such as job loss or a death in the family.
- Genetics. Some evidence suggests that anxiety disorders can be inherited and may run in families.
Treatment for anxiety varies depending on the type and the symptoms experienced by the individual. Common treatments include:
- Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy
- Medications, including those that reduce anxiety and antidepressants
- Complementary approaches such as relaxation, meditation, and stress-management techniques.