What You Need to Know About Anxiety Disorders

When Anxiety Becomes Problematic

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We all feel anxious sometimes. For example, most of us feel some anxiety when we speak in front of a large audience. Normal anxiety serves a purpose. It helps you gear up to face a threatening situation, it makes you study harder or it keeps you on your toes when you're making a speech. How do you know when normal anxiety has become problematic and has maybe even developed into an anxiety disorder?

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

If you have an anxiety disorder, this normally helpful emotion can keep you from coping and likely disrupts your daily life. Anxiety disorders are not just nerves, they are illnesses, often related to the biological makeup and life experiences of the individual, and they frequently run in families. There are a number of anxiety disorders, each with its own distinct symptoms and characteristics.These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), specific phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder (SAD).

With an anxiety disorder, you may feel anxious most of the time without any reason. Some people feel so uncomfortable that they stop certain everyday activities. Others have occasional bouts of intense anxiety that terrifies and immobilizes them.

Anxiety disorders as a whole are the most common of all the mental disorders.

Researchers continue to learn more about the nature of anxiety disorders, their causes and how to alleviate them. People often misunderstand anxiety disorders and think individuals should be able to overcome the symptoms by sheer willpower. This is not possible, but there are treatments that can help.

How Do I Know if I Have an Anxiety Disorder? 

Generally, if your anxiety is severe and unrelated to a specific event, such as public speaking, and has been going on for at least six months, you should set up an appointment with your physician. When anxiety begins to disrupt your life and potentially impact your relationships, it has become problematic and warrants further investigation.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are usually very treatable with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. Your doctor will likely do a physical examination first to rule out any physical reasons for your anxiety. If an anxiety disorder is suspected, your physician will refer you to a mental health professional who is trained in diagnosing mental illness. Sometimes, anxiety is accompanied by other illnesses such as depression or substance abuse, so these need to be diagnosed and treated as well. 

It can take some time to figure out which combination of treatments are best for you as an individual, so try to be patient and keep communication open with your mental health professional.

Be sure to follow instructions, including taking medications as necessary and attending therapy appointments when scheduled. Certain types of therapy and medications have been found to be especially effective for anxiety disorders, so make sure you see a mental health professional who is experienced in treating them. 

Medications that are used for anxiety disorders include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and beta-blockers.It is important to take your medication as directed and let your doctor know about any other medications you may be on.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective types of therapy for anxiety disorders. CBT helps you change the way you think about the sources of your anxiety and change the way you react to your anxiety.


"Anxiety Disorders." National Institute of Mental Health (May 2015).

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