Anxiety DisordersAnxiety disorders are a set of related mental conditions that include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, and simple phobias. Anxiety disorders are treated by a combination of psychiatric medications and psychotherapy.

Anxiety, worry, and stress are all a part of most people’s everyday lives. But simply experiencing anxiety or stress in and of itself does not mean you need to get professional help or that you have an anxiety disorder. In fact, anxiety is an important and sometimes necessary warning signal of a dangerous or difficult situation. Without anxiety, we would have no way of anticipating difficulties ahead and preparing for them.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when the symptoms become chronic, and interfere with our daily lives and ability to function. People suffering from chronic, generalized anxiety often report the following symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Physical weakness
  • Poor memory
  • Sweaty hands
  • Fear or confusion
  • Inability to relax
  • Constant worry
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Upset stomach
  • Poor concentration

These symptoms are severe and upsetting enough to make individuals feel extremely uncomfortable, out of control, and helpless.

Anxiety disorders fall into a set of separate diagnoses, depending upon the symptoms and severity of the anxiety the person experiences. Anxiety disorders share the anticipation of a future threat, but differ in the types of situations or objects that induce fear or avoidance behavior. Different types of anxiety disorder also have different types of unhealthy thoughts associated with them.

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in the United States. The most common type of anxiety disorder are called “simple phobias,” which includes phobias of things like snakes or being in a high place. Up to 9 percent of the population could be diagnosed with this disorder in any given year. Also common are social anxiety disorder (social phobia, about 7 percent) — being fearful and avoiding social situations — and generalized anxiety disorder (about 3 percent).

Anxiety disorders are readily treated through a combination of psychotherapy and anti-anxiety medications. Many people who take medications for anxiety disorders can take them on an as-needed basis, for the specific situation causing the anxiety reaction.

The anxiety disorders discussed in this series on anxiety are:

» 15 Small Steps You Can Take Today to Improve Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety Disorder Basics

We offer some basic curated information below about anxiety disorders — such as treatment options available and what it’s like to live with one.

Connect with Others About Anxiety

Peer support for anxiety disorders is often a useful and helpful component of treatment. We offer a number of resources that can help you feel that you’re not alone in battling this condition.

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are considered anxiety disorders, they are covered elsewhere independently on Psych Central.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fifth edition. New York.