Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.
Anxiety disorders can include Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Specific Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Social Anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) usually involves a constant feeling of anxiety or fear. More than just worrying about occasional stressful events most of us experience in our lives, GAD is an ongoing experience of frequent anxiety that may last for months, or even years.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The symptoms of GAD comes from a complex interaction between biology and environment. Some factors may include genetics, brain function and chemistry, individual personality, development, and one’s perception of threats.
Signs & Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of GAD include:
- A sense of restlessness
- Being on-edge or wound-up
- Difficulty concentrating
- Being easily fatigued
- Headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Sweating, nausea, or diarrhea
Panic disorder involves frequent and unexpected panic attacks – sudden periods of intense discomfort, fear, or sense of losing control, even when there is no clear danger that typically come without warning. These panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.
People who experience occasional panic attacks may not develop panic disorder. Instead, those with panic disorder have repeated occurrences of panic attacks. They often worry about when the next attack will happen, to the point where they will avoid places and situations that they know have affected them in the past.
What Causes Panic Disorder?
It is not fully known what causes Panic Disorder, but factors such as genetics, trauma, major stress, having a disposition that is more prone to negative feelings, and changes in brain function play a part.
Signs & Symptoms of Panic Disorder
During a panic attack, a person may experience:
- Rapid heart rate or chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or tingling
- Feelings of doom or imminent danger
- Feeling out of control
- Chills or hot flashes
A specific phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are many specific phobias, such as the fear of heights. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals, separation, and blood.
What Causes Phobias?
It’s not fully known what are the causes of specific phobias. Factors such as negative experiences (e.g having a panic attack related to a situation or an object), genetics, learned behavior, and brain function.
Signs & Symptoms of Phobias
People with phobias try to avoid what makes them afraid. If they cannot, they may experience:
- A strong desire to get away, immediate and intense fear, anxiety, and panic
- Rapid heartbeat, sweating, tight chest, trembling, and shortness of breath
- Being aware that fears are irrational but feeling powerless
- Intense avoidance of an object or situation
- In children: tantrums, clinging to guardian, and crying
With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a person can have repeated, upsetting thoughts or obsessions. They do the same thing over and over again attempting to make the thoughts go away. Those repeated actions are called compulsions.
What Causes OCD
Researchers think brain circuits work differently for people who have OCD. It tends to run in families and the symptoms often begin in children or teens. Left untreated, OCD can take over your life. Treatments that combine medicines and therapy are often effective.
Signs & Symptoms of OCD
Examples of obsessions are:
- a fear of germs or a fear of being hurt
- needing things to have order or be symmetrical
- difficulty allowing uncertainty
- dreadful thoughts about harming others or losing control
- repeatedly washing your hands
- always counting items
- constantly checking on things, such as making sure the door is locked or stove is turned off
- repetitious cleaning
- thoughts about yelling obscenities in public places
- avoiding situations that can prompt obsessions, such as not touching doorknobs
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) is an overwhelming, ongoing fear of being watched and judged by others. People with Social Anxiety Disorder have a fear of social situations so great that it is beyond their control. This fear may even get in the way of going to work, attending school, or performing other everyday tasks.
What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
It’s not fully known what are the specific causes of social anxiety disorder. Factors such as genetics, and learned behavior (such as developing social anxiety disorder after an incredibly embarrassing social situation) can be causes.
Signs & Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
People with social anxiety disorder may experience:
- Blushing or feeling embarrassed or anxious
- Sweating or trembling
- Heart palpitations
- Stiff body posture
- Speaking with an overly soft voice
- Difficulty making eye contact with people
- Difficulty being around people they don’t know
- Being self-consciousness or fearful of being judged negatively by people
Depending on the severity, some people may find it difficult to go through common, everyday experiences, such as making eye contact, attending gatherings, dating, using public restrooms, starting conversations, or going to work and school.
Treatments, such as medicines and therapy, help most people with anxiety disorders. Support groups and learning stress management techniques can also assist with managing symptoms.
Learn how to talk about mental health to help you speak to a loved one who you may think is experiencing any mental health concerns.
- If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
- To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit FindSupport.gov.
- To locate treatment facilities or providers, visit FindTreatment.gov or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
- Understanding Anxiety Disorders Young Adult: Get the Facts
- Understanding Anxiety Disorders Caregiver: Get the Facts
- Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Young Adults: Get the Facts
- Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Caregiver: Get the Facts
- Anxiety in Children
- Prevention and Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among College Students
- Severe Storms: How to Reduce your Anxiety
- Mental Health America: Phobias
- National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders
- Mayo Clinic: Social Anxiety Disorder
- Mayo Clinic: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Mayo Clinic: General Anxiety Disorder
- John Hopkins Medicine: Phobias