It’s natural to worry, especially during stressful times. For some people, worries and fears may consume their thoughts, making it difficult to live a normal life.
There are three types of anxiety disorders; these illnesses are among the most common mental health conditions. A person may have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder. Each disorder has its own set of symptoms, but they all share common symptoms of extreme irrational fear and dread.
Plenty of normal life events bring on feelings of anxiety. For example, the prospect of public speaking is one of the most common reasons a person may feel anxious. Before walking on stage to deliver a speech, a person may feel her pulse race and notice sweaty palms. In contrast, a panic attack brought on by an anxiety disorder is much more intense and disabling. A person who experiences a panic attack may believe she is having a heart attack or breathing disorder. The frightening episode comes on in a matter of minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Higher than normal heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling unable to breath, choking sensation
- Chest pain, discomfort
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling dizzy, experiencing the sensation of fainting
- Chills or heat sensations
- Feeling numb or a tingling
- Feeling the surroundings are unreal or feeling detached from self and others
- Experiencing the sensation of losing control or losing one’s mind
- Feeling one’s life is at stake
A panic attack may leave a person so disoriented he is afraid to tell others about the seriousness of the symptoms. A person may seek treatment at an emergency room only to learn he wasn’t having a heart attack. This may embarrass him and prompt him to hide the symptoms.
Not everyone with an anxiety disorder will experience a classic panic attack. Some people may experience more general anxiety symptoms that are disabling because they affect their ability to live a normal life, manage issues at work or have fun socially. Someone is diagnosed with general anxiety disorder when she is unable to control her excessive worrying for at least six months or has three or more symptoms. The most common anxiety disorder, general anxiety affects 6.8 million adults (3.1% of the U.S. population) and disproportionately affects women. Symptoms of the disorder include the following, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):
- Feeling restless, unable to relax, on edge
- Easily tired
- Trouble concentrating, tendency to lose thoughts, experiencing a blank mind
- Feeling irritable
- Experiencing muscle tension
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, restless, unproductive sleep
Not everyone experiences general anxiety symptoms all the time or to a high degree. Some people may experience intense feelings when they are under more stress than usual.
An anxiety disorder may have an intense social component. People who suffer with social anxiety disorder are extremely afraid of being judged by others in social or performance situations. While people with the disorder know their fears are irrational, they are unable to control the overwhelming sense of worry about humiliating or embarrassing themselves in front of others. Social anxiety impacts a person’s ability to live a normal life by making it difficult to go on job interviews, make friends and develop romantic relationships.
There are several risk factors for developing an anxiety disorder. Scientists have linked various factors to the illness, although the exact causes are unknown. A person who has a timid or negative personality is more likely to experience intense anxiety. The disorder has a genetic component and runs in families. In addition, women are more likely to experience anxiety.
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 National Institute of Mental Health. (2015). Anxiety Disorders. What are Anxiety Disorders? Retrieved Mar. 6, 2016 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia: Symptoms. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2016 from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms.
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2016 from http://www.adaa.org/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2016 from http://www.adaa.org/social-anxiety-disorder.
 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Risk Factors. Retrieved Mar. 6, 2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/risk-factors/con-20024562.