Anxiety is the normal reaction of the body to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s coming. On the first day of school, going to a job interview or speaking, most people may feel scared and nervous.
A mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger, a body’s automatic fight-or-flight response that is triggered when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a difficult situation, such as a job interview, an exam, or a first date. In moderation, anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. It can help you stay alert and focused, encourage you to take action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming — when anxieties and fears interfere with your relationships and daily life — you’ve probably crossed the line from normal anxiety to anxiety disorder.
You may have an anxiety disorder if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?
- Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?
- Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can’t shake?
- Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?
- Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you anxiety?
- Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?
- Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?
Signs and symptoms of anxiety disorder:
Common emotional symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread.
- Watching for signs of danger.
- Anticipating the worst.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Feeling tense and jumpy.
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank.
Anxiety also involves a wide range of physical symptoms, including:
- Pounding heart
- Stomach upset
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension or twitches
- Shaking or trembling
The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.
Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism.
- Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
- Drug misuse or withdrawal.
- Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines), or other medications.
- Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones.
What is an anxiety attack?
Anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are episodes of extreme panic and fear. Anxiety attacks typically take place unexpectedly and without warning. Often there’s an apparent trigger — getting trapped in the elevator, for example, or worrying about the big speech you’ve got to give — but in other situations, the attacks come out of the blue.
Anxiety attacks usually peak within 10 minutes, and they rarely last more than 30 minutes. But during that short time, you may experience terror so severe that you feel as if you’re about to die or totally lose control.
Symptoms of an anxiety attack include:
- The surge of overwhelming panic
- The feeling of losing control or going crazy
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Trouble breathing or choking sensation
- Hot flashes or chills
- Trembling or shaking
- Nausea or stomach cramps
- Feeling detached or unreal.
Treatment for anxiety disorders:
- Cognitive-behavior therapy.
- Exposure therapy.