Who Gets Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders can affect anyone at any age. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder. (APA) Approximately 40 million American adults (18 percent of the population) are affected by an anxiety disorder in any given year. (NIMH)
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may also be depressed. Some people with anxiety disorders 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.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Anxiety is hard to describe. 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 could 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.
What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and an Anxiety Disorder?
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 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 or crossing the street or even leaving your home. If left untreated, the anxiety will keep getting worse.
What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders?
An anxiety disorder can take many forms, 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 behavior
- 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, such as the death of a loved one, war, or being the victim of a crime
What Is the Outlook for Someone with an Anxiety Disorder?
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. Treatment may not result in a complete cure, but in most cases, the symptoms can be controlled so you can live a normal life.
What Are the Complications of Anxiety?An anxiety disorder is a medical condition that interferes with your life. It makes it difficult for you to handle job or school responsibilities, do daily tasks, concentrate, and establish and maintain personal relationships. It might make it difficult for you to leave your home or even get out of bed. Untreated anxiety can increase your risk of more severe, even life-threatening conditions.
The potential complications of anxiety disorder include the following:
DepressionAnxiety disorder and depression often occur together. They have similar symptoms and can be difficult to tell apart. Both can cause agitation, insomnia, the inability to concentrate, and feelings of anxiety.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 90 percent of people who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. This can include anxiety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 4 percent of adults per year in the United States have serious thoughts about suicide. These numbers are even higher in people who also suffer from depression.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social phobia, you are also at an increased risk for suicide. If you have one of these anxiety disorders along with depression, your risk is even greater.
If you have anxiety disorder, you are at a high risk for addiction to many substances. These include alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. If you have depression along with anxiety disorder, your risk increases.
Often, people with anxiety use alcohol and other substances to relieve their symptoms. There is no evidence that alcohol actually relieves anxiety, but the belief that it does can bring some relief. However, long-term alcohol use can cause biological changes that may actually produce anxiety.
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social phobia are especially at risk for alcohol and drug abuse. Smoking and substance abuse are also common in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Adolescents with PTSD also have an increased risk of eating disorders.
Anxiety disorder increases your risk of developing certain illnesses. Chronic stress can compromise your immune system. This makes you more susceptible to infections, such as colds, the flu, and other viral and bacterial diseases.
Anxiety disorder has also been associated with:
- an increased risk of heart disease
- headaches, both tension and migraine
- irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders
- respiratory problems
- sleep disturbances
- teeth grinding
There is no cure for anxiety disorder. It is a chronic condition that can take many forms. The long-term outlook depends on the severity of your condition. Most people with OCD, phobias, and panic disorder improve greatly within the first weeks or months of proper treatment. Many people with PTSD and GAD can also make substantial improvement. Some symptoms of anxiety disorder seem to diminish with age.
Stress management will probably be an ongoing concern, and symptoms may flare during periods of acute stress. But with a combination of medication and psychotherapy, most people with anxiety disorder can get their symptoms under control and live a fairly normal and comfortable life.