An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may respond to certain things and situations with fear and dread. You may also experience physical signs of anxiety, such as a pounding heart and sweating.
It’s normal to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious or nervous if you have to tackle a problem at work, go to an interview, take a test, or make an important decision. And anxiety can even be beneficial. For example, anxiety helps us notice dangerous situations and focuses our attention, so we stay safe.
But an anxiety disorder goes beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear you may feel from time to time. An anxiety disorder happens when:
- Anxiety interferes with your ability to function.
- You often overreact when something triggers your emotions.
- You can’t control your responses to situations.
Anxiety disorders can make it difficult to get through the day. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for anxiety disorders.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder.
- Separation anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are like other forms of mental illness. They don’t come from personal weakness, character flaws, or problems with upbringing. But researchers don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. They suspect a combination of factors plays a role:
- Chemical imbalance: Severe or long-lasting stress can change the chemical balance that controls your mood. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period can lead to an anxiety disorder.
- Environmental factors: Experiencing a trauma might trigger an anxiety disorder, especially in someone who has inherited a higher risk start.
- Heredity: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. You may inherit them from one or both parents, like eye color.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have. General symptoms of an anxiety disorder include Physical symptoms like cold or sweaty hands, dry mouth, heart palpitations, nausea, numbness or tingling in hands or feet, muscle tension, and Shortness of breath. Mental and behavioral symptoms include feeling panic, fear and uneasiness, nightmares and uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts, inability to be still and calm, and troubled sleep
An anxiety disorder is like any other health problem that requires treatment. It’s not a matter of self-discipline or attitude. Researchers have made a lot of progress in the last few decades in treating mental health conditions. Your healthcare provider will tailor a treatment plan that works for you. Your plan may combine medication and psychotherapy.
Medications can’t cure an anxiety disorder, but they can improve symptoms and help you function better. Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, may decrease your anxiety, panic, and worry. Antidepressants can also help with anxiety disorders. They tweak how your brain uses certain chemicals to improve mood and reduce stress.
Psychotherapy, or counseling, helps you deal with your emotional response to the illness. A mental health provider talks through strategies to help you better understand and manage the disorder. Approaches include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used with anxiety disorders. CBT for anxiety teaches you to recognize thought patterns and behaviors that lead to troublesome feelings.
- Exposure therapy focuses on dealing with the fears behind the anxiety disorder. It helps you engage with activities or situations you may have been avoiding. Your provider may also use relaxation exercises and imagery with exposure therapy.