What Are Anxiety Disorders?

The Definition of Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Man contemplating after a days work
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Anxiety disorders are a serious mental illness that cause significant worry or fear that doesn't go away and may even get worse over time. We all feel anxious at times, but with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety tends to be fairly constant and have a very negative and intrusive impact on a person's quality of life.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders including panic disorder, specific phobia, social anxiety disorderposttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

The newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) breaks anxiety disorders into three categories: Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, and Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. This differentiation shows that while the disorders have commonality and are related, they are distinctly different as well.

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Anxiety disorders come with a whole host of symptoms and no one person has the same experience. Each disorder tends to have different symptoms as well, but the symptoms common to anxiety disorders in general include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of nervousness, panic, fear and unease
  • Muscle tightness
  •  Dry mouth
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Unable to be calm or hold still
  • Sweaty or cold hands and/or feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Basically, when you experience the familiar physical and psychological signs of fear and anxiety such as sweating, racing heart, shortness of breath, trembling, worry or stress, these are cues that something is happening that could be a threat and that you need to deal with it.

This “flight or fight” reaction activates the physical and psychological resources necessary to deal with the potential danger. Although this system works well most of the time, sometimes it can go into overdrive and do more harm than good. When this happens, it might indicate you have an anxiety disorder.

Diagnosing an Anxiety Disorder

There are no lab tests that can be done in order to diagnose an anxiety disorder, though your doctor may perform some tests to rule out physical problems.Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a counselor, who will use specific diagnostic tools and questions to help determine what sort of disorder you may have. 

Anxiety Disorder Treatments

Anxiety disorders can be treated with a variety of options, including psychotherapy, medications, and coping strategies.One particularly effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorder sufferers is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If you have an anxiety disorder, there are plenty of treatment options available to help you live your life to the fullest. Remember, treatment can take time, trial and error before you and your physician discover the best options for you. Be patient and keep communication open with your mental health professional in order to figure out the plan best tailored to your individual needs.


Causes of Anxiety Disorder

No one knows exactly what causes anxiety disorders, although there seem to be a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, stress level, brain changes and trauma. Researchers are finding out more about these links all the time.





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