Anxiety disorders rank among the most common type of mental disorders in the United States, with over 18 percent of the adult population struggling with some form of anxiety disorder every year. However, less than 40 percent of the people estimated to have an anxiety disorder get the proper treatment.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by a much higher susceptibility to stress, irrational worry, and unmanageable physical symptoms such as visceral panic attacks.
It’s important to note that an anxiety disorder sets itself apart from the normal and human reaction of anxiety by way of scope and severity. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious in certain situations – for example, if there’s news of a severe drought, a farmer would be rightly anxious about their yield this season, and the climate’s impact on their finances.
However, anxiety disorders are defined by irrational or overwhelming anxiety, the kind that causes constant fear and stress, and a physical reaction to the slightest relevant stressor. When anxiety reaches a point where it interferes with day-to-day life to a significant degree, it may be properly examined and diagnosed as a disorder by a professional.
Anxiety disorders exist in many different forms. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, other types of phobias, separation anxiety, selective mutism, and substance-induced anxiety.
Different conditions have different causes, triggers, and symptoms, but the overarching symptoms of anxiety disorders (other than worry) include sleep problems, difficulty breathing, dry mouth, tense muscles, inability to concentrate, and trouble staying still.
When anxiety disorder induces a panic attack, the reaction can be incredibly frightening and painful, and is often likened to a heart attack. Symptoms include hyperventilation, heart palpitations, nausea, tingling extremities, and an overarching sense of doom. A properly diagnosed panic attack occurs when there is no apparent danger around to trigger it. Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder with reoccurring panic attacks.
It’s important not to mistake a heart or respiratory issue for an episode of anxiety. In rare cases, certain physical conditions can be mistaken for anxiety, and people fail to get the emergency care they need.
Aside from genetic predisposition, certain medical conditions, traumatic experiences, and substance use or medication histories can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Certain medications and drugs can make the brain more susceptible to stress, a common example being alcohol.
Traumatic experiences can lead to post-traumatic stress, which often goes hand-in-hand with severe anxiety issues, including phobias. Early childhood experiences in particular can cement certain fears and behaviors, leading to anxiety symptoms later in life.
Chronic stress is another common risk factor – leading a hectic life with little to no downtime may be more likely to lead to the development of anxiety problems, including unexplained worries or constant tenseness.
Treatment for an anxiety disorder will vary based on intensity, and the person’s reaction to specific medication. Specific anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, are usually avoided due to their potential for side effects but can be a person’s best chance for a better quality of life in cases where other treatments aren’t effective.
Otherwise, other medications used include antidepressants and beta-blockers (which help relieve physical heart symptoms), or anticonvulsants, and many other types. Different types of talk therapy also play a vital role in treating anxiety disorders by helping a person identify healthy and individualized coping mechanisms to take their mind off their anxieties and reduce the overwhelming feeling of fear.