Man with glasses looking stressed in chair rubbing his eyes

Most people have experienced anxiety, nervousness, fear or panic caused by a threat of danger – a near-miss car crash, a vicious-looking dog approaching, being followed down a dark sidewalk or alley, being lost or feeling stranded – at some point in their lives. This is usually accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, quick or shallow breathing, sweaty or clammy hands, tense muscles, difficulty concentrating, catastrophic or negative thoughts and nausea.

All of the above reactions are normal when they are experienced in a potentially threatening or heightened situation. It’s also normal for a person to be anxious over financial troubles, going on a first date, speaking before a group of people, a child’s safety, getting older or being physically attractive. A little bit of anxiety can help people perform better; it can sharpen senses and motivate you to meet certain goals.

So when is anxiety negative? When it becomes so severe that it interferes with your ability to be productive, reach goals, and/or it intrudes on your quality of life. If this happens, you may have an anxiety disorder.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are brain diseases that are chronic, tormenting and grow progressively worse when left untreated. They are not caused by a weakness of character or lack of willpower and are actually one of the most common illnesses diagnosed today. More than 19 million Americans with anxiety disorders experience overwhelming anxiety or fear that sometimes does not get better without help.

With an anxiety or phobic disorder, anxiety symptoms are triggered at inappropriate times, are persistent and recurring or may cause you to dramatically change your lifestyle or behavior in order to avoid situations that cause these symptoms. Symptoms can be extremely disruptive to leading a normal life.

Anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • A variety of phobias

The good news is that treatment is very effective in relieving the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. Here are some of the most common:

Panic Disorder – Symptoms include brief episodes or “panic attacks” of terror or intense fear that may strike often and without warning as well as experiencing signs that are observable by others including breathing trouble, dizziness, sweating and pain in your stomach or chest that affects your behavior.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Characterized as having anxious thoughts and performing rituals that you can’t seem to stop or control. The thoughts are often repeated, intense and unwanted (called obsessions) and the behaviors (compulsions) may include washing your hands, counting excessively or checking things repeatedly.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD symptoms occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or terrifying event. You will experience persistent frightening thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares of the event, accompanied by feeling emotionally numb or dulled.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Recognized by constant and exaggerated worry, tension and anxiety about everyday things such as money, health, family or work. Physical signs include headaches, fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, aches and nausea.

Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder) – Symptoms for this disorder include anxiety and a disabling and irrational fear of being humiliated and embarrassed in social situations, at work, with friends or at school.

Specific Phobias – A phobia is an extreme and irrational fear of something like flying, fear of heights, elevators, driving on a highway or across a bridge, dogs or injuries involving blood.

Effective Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

The good news is that treating and managing anxiety is very successful.

With proper treatment, symptoms can be controlled and you can lead a happy, successful, fulfilling life. Treatment usually includes therapy, medication and self-help groups or a combination of those.