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HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA

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Anxiety Overview

What is Anxiety?

It’s normal to feel anxious once in a while. Certain events and experiences can cause anxiety. Very common is worry about the future—if you’ll get a promotion, if you’re raising your children correctly, if you’ll get the loan from the bank to start your own business. 

However, if those feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease happen on a seemingly regular basis, and they are brought on by daily stress, you may be part of the estimated 18 percent of the U.S. population with an anxiety disorder. 

While some people have the capability to calmly surf through life’s worst storms, others react to stress with episodes of anxiety. Anxiety can be hard to describe. It can feel like standing in the middle of a crumbling building with nothing but an umbrella to protect you. It can also feel like you’re holding onto a merry-go-round going 65 mph and you can’t do anything to slow it down.

Anxiety often manifests as an apprehension about daily life, including finances, job responsibilities, health of loved ones, and so on. Anxiety triggers can be as minor as being late for appointments, car repair responsibilities, or household chores. 

People with anxiety can also worry about their performance in work or school—this is a common symptom in children with anxiety.

The key to distinguishing anxious feelings from legitimate fear is that the frequency, duration, and intensity of the anxiety greatly outweigh the likelihood of the feared event.

The most common type of anxiety is generalized anxiety disorder. This involves frequent anxiety, worry, and apprehension about different activities, including the daily tasks already mentioned.

Other types of anxiety are related to specific stressors, and include: 

  • Panic disorder: this type of anxiety is characterized by panic attacks, or bouts of intense fear or terror that develop quickly and unexpectedly.
  • Social phobia: a fear of being embarrassed in public situations.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: this is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something specific (compulsions).
  • Separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones.
  • Anorexia nervosa: the fear of gaining weight.
  • Somatization disorder: complaining of multiple physical problems when there is no evidence of physical illness.
  • Hypochondriasis: anxiety over having a serious illness.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder: anxiety following a traumatic event, such as death of a loved one, war, or being the victim of a crime.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Jun 10, 2011
Medically reviewed : Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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