Anxiety disorders are classified as mental illnesses and come in a variety of forms, the most common of which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying, so much so that it significantly interferes with normal daily activities. Panic disorder, on the other hand, is a problem with recurrent panic attacks as well as a concern of having such panic attacks in the future. Lastly, social anxiety disorder usually relates to anxiety in the context of social experiences, ranging from public speaking and group settings to one-on-one conversations and making eye contact with strangers.
In and of itself, anxiety is a very normal and sometimes healthy emotion that everyone will experience at some point in their life. This is often the case during stressful situations, such as job interviews, final exams, first dates, and presentations. It’s only when these feelings of anxiety become persistent, excessive, and unreasonable that they become a problem. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, they must experience anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation or inappropriate to their age, and the worry must hinder their ability to function normally in everyday life. Furthermore, this excessive worrying and anxiety must be present more days than not for a period of 6 months, the sufferer must find it difficult to control and hard to self-soothe, and the symptoms must not be attributable to medication or drug abuse.
In addition to feelings of worry and anxiety, additional symptoms may include irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. These psychological symptoms can then lead to the physical manifestation of symptoms, due to changes in eating patterns, sleep troubles, or carrying tension in the muscles. For example, eating more or less may cause digestive issues, difficulty sleeping may lead to chronic fatigue, and muscle tension may result in muscle aches and soreness. Other common symptoms include tingling sensations in the hands or feet, heart palpitations and shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea, and dry mouth.
Researchers are not entirely sure what causes anxiety disorders or their accompanying symptoms, but many believe that genetic factors, environmental factors, and chemical imbalances in the brain may all play a role. An example of a genetic factor is having a close relative with an anxiety disorder whereas environmental factors are things such as being exposed to neglect or abuse. Anxiety disorders affect nearly 30 percent of adults, most of whom are women, making them the most common type of mental illness. The good news is that anxiety disorders are treatable and there are a number of effective methods available to help sufferers lead normal and productive lives.
Treatment of anxiety disorders usually involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. The recommended form of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy because it teaches new ways of thinking and behaving. As for medication, the most common choice is antidepressants, specifically SSRIs and SNRIs, as well as benzodiazepines and beta blockers. SSRIs regulate serotonin while SNRIs regulate serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs that have a relaxing effect and beta blockers can help ease the physical symptoms of performance anxiety.