What is Anxiety?

Before I start to explain what it is, I would be remiss not to mention that occasional anxiety is normal. The difference between a diagnosable disorder from just occasional anxiety is that some people have debilitating, intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. These excessive and intense feelings can peak within minutes and manifest into panic attacks.

The anxiety has to interfere with everyday life activities and is difficult to control and are out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last a long time. Sometimes people avoid people or places to help manage these feelings.

Symptoms

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Who is at Risk?

A mix of genetic and environmental factors can increase the chances of someone developing an anxiety disorder. Some of this can put you at a higher risk:

  • Certain personality traits, such as shyness or behavioral inhibition — feeling uncomfortable with and avoiding unfamiliar people, situations, or environments.
  • Stressful or traumatic events in early childhood or adulthood.
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions.
  • Certain physical conditions, including thyroid problems and heart arrhythmias (unusual heart rhythms).

It can occur more in women and may come from women’s hormones, especially those that fluctuate throughout the month.

Several types of anxiety disorders exist:

  • Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering, or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work, and social functioning.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don’t meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You feel like you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships, or other parts of your life
  • Your fear, worry, or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control
  • You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
  • You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — if this is the case, seek emergency treatment immediately

What is Anxiety?