Overview & Facts
Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressful events or situations. Examples include going on a first date, or making a public speech. Normal anxiety can actually help you rise to the occasion. But when anxiety interferes with your ability to live normally, for example, when constant fears or overwhelming worries make it hard to meet personal, professional and community responsibilities, you may have an anxiety disorder—a serious but treatable mental illness.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder--excessive anxiety or worry lasting for months that may include restlessness, sleep problems, muscle tension, irritability, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.
- Panic Disorder--a disorder involving ongoing, unexpected panic attacks
- Social Anxiety Disorder--a marked fear of social situations and being unfairly judged by others.
While symptoms vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder a person has, common complaints include:
- Panic attacks
- Uncontrollable fears (phobias)
- Obsessive or uncontrollable thoughts
- Flashbacks about a traumatic experience
- Trouble sleeping
- Repeated ritualistic behaviors (constant hand washing, for example)
- Trouble sitting still.
The physical symptoms associated with anxiety disorder may include:
- cold, clammy (or sweaty) hands and feet
- heart palpitations (racing heart) or a sense of skipping beats
- dry mouth
- shortness of breath
- tingling or numbness in your hands or feet
- muscle tension.
The exact cause or causes are not known, but stress is a likely contributing factor. Your environment, along with your genes, hormones, and brain chemistry are also thought to play key roles in developing anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are often treated with medication, counseling (psychotherapy), or a combination of both. The exact course of treatment will depend on your specific problem(s) and personal needs. Medications that can help in the treatment of anxiety disorders include:
- anti-anxiety medications
- antidepressant medications
You should check first with your family physician or another qualified healthcare provider if you think you may have an anxiety disorder. He or she can determine if your problem is a true anxiety disorder or another medical problem (or both). If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder you should seek the care of a trained mental health professional.