Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone at any age. According to the American Psychiatric Association, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also be depressed. Some people with anxiety disorders also abuse alcohol or other drugs in an effort to feel better. This may provide temporary relief, but can ultimately make the condition worse. It may be necessary to treat an alcohol or drug problem before the anxiety can be addressed.
Anxiety feels differently in different individuals. You might feel like you’re standing in the middle of a crumbling building with nothing but an umbrella to protect you. Or you might feel like you’re holding onto a merry-go-round going 65 mph and can’t do anything to slow it down. You might feel butterflies in your stomach, or your heart might be racing. You may experience nightmares, panic, or painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.
Symptoms of general anxiety include:
- increased heart rate
- rapid breathing
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty falling asleep
Anxiety is a feeling of fear you have when you must do something stressful. It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. Normal anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and to do a better job. Normal anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life.
In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating. This type of anxiety may cause you to stop doing things you enjoy. In extreme cases, it may prevent you from entering an elevator, crossing the street, or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
There are many different disorders in which anxiety is a key feature, including:
- panic disorder: characterized by bouts of intense fear or terror that develop quickly and unexpectedly
- phobia: excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity
- social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
- obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviors
- separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones
- hypochondriasis: anxiety about your health
- post-traumatic stress disorder: anxiety following a traumatic event
Anxiety disorders can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Some people who have a mild anxiety disorder or a fear of something they can easily avoid, decide to live with the condition and to not seek treatment.
It is important to understand that anxiety disorder is an illness and can be treated, even in severe cases.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on Oct 12, 2016 by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP