What is Anxiety?
On its face, anxiety is the most common mental illness impacting Americans. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as much as 18 percent of the population may be affected.
Anxiety differs from common worries. Those with generalized anxiety disorder worry about health, family and money as well as other issues—when there is little or no reason to worry. They are concerned about getting through the day and they anticipate that things will go badly.
Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with depression, with about half of those suffering dually diagnosed. In addition, a number of those with an anxiety disorder also have a physical illness, such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, fibromyalgia or stress. They also may have a co-occurring disorder, such as bi-polar disorder, an eating disorder, adult attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) or body dysmorphic disorder.
Anxiety can take many forms. Generalized anxiety disorder affects about 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, striking twice as many women as men. Women also experience panic disorders more often than men. Panic disorders have a very high likelihood of being diagnosed in a person with major depression.
Social anxiety disorder is equally common in men and women and is a fear of being scrutinized or judged by others to the point that it disrupts daily living. Specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are other forms of anxiety disorders.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Each of the anxiety disorders has specific symptoms, but all share a few commonalities. Anxiety disorders differ from anxiety caused by a specific event, such as a job interview or speaking in public. Severe anxiety typically lasts at least six months and features an excessive and irrational fear. Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with substance abuse, which can either mask or exacerbate symptoms.
Those with generalized anxiety disorders can’t dismiss their concerns, though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than is appropriate. They can’t relax; they startle easily and have difficulty concentrating or sleeping. They may experience fatigue, headaches, muscle tensions or aches, difficulty swallowing, irritability, nausea and hot flashes.
Those with social phobias may have a hard time talking to other people, may feel self-conscious or embarrassed when around other people and may worry for days before an event where they will be with other people. They may isolate themselves and have a difficult time making friends. They may experience physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling or feeling sick when with others.
Panic attacks include physical symptoms, such as a pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness and pain. Those with panic disorders may experience a sudden and repeated fear of attack, a feeling of being out of control during an attack and a worry about when the next attack will occur. The person with panic disorder may avoid places where the panic attacks have occurred in the past.