What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety can feel like healthy stress that encourages you to focus on your task. And it can also turn in something that interferes with your everyday life. If this happens, you may have an anxiety disorder. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders. These include phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Each has its own set of symptoms. An estimated 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder.

Causes of anxiety disorders

Researchers don't know the exact cause of anxiety disorders. These conditions often happen from a combination of changes in your brain and stress from the outside world. If these mental disorders run in your family, you're more likely to have symptoms. 

Risk factors for anxiety disorders

Although doctors don't know the causes of these disorders, there are some risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing them. Women are diagnosed with these conditions almost twice as much as men. If you live with a long-term illness, you're also more likely to have an anxiety disorder. People who misuse drugs and alcohol are at greater risk of developing these conditions, too. Having depression can also put you at increased risk of having an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders

Each different anxiety disorder has specific symptoms. But they all share some general symptoms. People with anxiety disorders usually have feelings of panic, fear and general uneasiness. You may have trouble feeling calm or have tense muscles.

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold, sweaty or tingling hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath or heart palpitations
  • Diagnosis of anxiety disorders

It's easy to confuse the symptoms of an anxiety disorder with other health concerns. That's why it's so important to talk with your doctor if you notice any issues. Your doctor might start with a physical exam of your body. This helps ensure there are no underlying issues that may have similar symptoms. Next, your doctor can talk with you about how you're feeling. They may want to do some blood tests to see if you have another health condition. After this, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional. They can help you more with your symptoms.

Treatments for anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can benefit from treatment with therapy, medication or both. Working directly with your doctor can help you both see which path of treatment is right for you. Talk therapy is a common part of any treatment. Your counselor can tailor your time working together to your specific needs. You can learn the skills and thought patterns for working with your individual anxieties.

Anti-anxiety medication can help reduce your symptoms of anxiety and panic. The medication starts working fast. However, some people can develop a tolerance for these types of drugs. That means they may need to take higher doses over time. Doctors tend to prescribe these medicines for short-term use.

 Antidepressants can treat depression and anxiety disorders. That's because they help your brain chemistry handle moods and stress. These types of medicines take time to work. If your doctor prescribes them, don't stop taking them without talking to your doctor.

 Beta blockers are another type of medication. These can help physical conditions such as rapid heartbeat and trembling. You likely won't take these every day. They work better when you only take them during episodes of severe panicking.

 These medications often have side effects. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons. Some work better with some conditions than others. Before stopping any medication, talk with your doctor so you can stay safe, healthy and calm. Stopping them abruptly can cause other health issues.

Recovery from anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can be something you have for life. But treatment can help you live life with fewer symptoms. It can help to find a support group. Talking to other people who know what you're going through can help you work through everyday stress. You can also try stress-management techniques, such as exercise, to reduce your symptoms. Talk with your doctor if you start having strong symptoms again. Keeping tabs on your health is a good way to make sure your treatments continue to work.