Anxiety is a normal emotion of unease or fear that everyone can experience in stressful situations. But when anxiety doesn’t go away over time and becomes overwhelming to the point of interfering with everyday life, it may be considered an anxiety disorder.
Everyone can sometimes experience anxiety in response to stressful events and situations. But anxiety disorders are a group of conditions where anxiety is overwhelming, doesn’t go away over time, and begins to interfere with daily life. Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias.
What are Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders?
While each anxiety disorder has unique symptoms, they share in common the experience of fear or worry that is difficult to manage, along with physical signs of anxiety. Symptoms can include things like:
- A pounding heart
- Hyperventilation (rapid breathing that can cause feelings of breathlessness)
- Muscle tension
- Having trouble sleeping
These symptoms can be triggered by certain situations or can be more constant.
Factors that Impact the Likelihood of Experiencing Anxiety Disorder.
If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, know that you’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are very common. Up to 3 in 10 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with one during their lifetime.
Researchers believe that genetics combines with other factors to influence how likely an individual is to develop an anxiety disorder. Non-genetic factors that can increase the likelihood of experiencing an anxiety disorder include:
- A history of severe stress, trauma, or abuse, including in early life
- Having a family history of anxiety
- Sex: More females than males have anxiety disorders
- Many health conditions, including other mental health conditions
- Experiencing discrimination due to race, sexual orientation, gender, or other factors
- Currently taking certain medications
- Problems with alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
If you have any concerns about these potential factors, talk to a healthcare professional like a doctor, clinical psychologist, mental health counselor, or genetic counselor.
Ways to Manage Anxiety Disorder.
While anxiety is impacted by some factors that can’t be changed—like genetics—it’s also impacted by some things that can. Research suggests that a healthy lifestyle can help manage anxiety levels.
- Seek social support from family, friends, and/or a counselor or other mental health professional, especially during times of stress, such as major life changes or losses.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise can improve mood and reduce anxiety.
- Try to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make anxiety worse.
- Explore stress-reduction and/or mindfulness techniques like meditation or yoga.
- Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine can worsen anxiety.
- Avoid using tobacco, alcohol, or other substances, and get help to quit if needed.
Talk to a healthcare professional such as a doctor, clinical psychologist, or counselor if you have any concerns. Anxiety that interferes with everyday life can be treated with counseling, medication, or a combination of the two.
If you or someone you know needs support, seek professional help.