What is an anxiety disorder?

Mental Health

😟 Anxiety is a general term that can describe stress, worries, and specific fears.

We often think of anxiety about school, work, or new situations. All of us have anxiety sometimes. And a little bit of it isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it pushes us to do new things or to get things done. But too much anxiety can be bad for our health. Anxiety is universal and people all over the world experience it. Up to 20% of the population in the United States report having had an anxiety disorder and between 5-10% of the population globally is estimated to have an anxiety disorder. The pandemic has increased the proportion of people who report anxiety disorders by up to 25% (estimated).

😔 Anxiety disorders exist when someone has anxiety nearly every day and it is affecting how they feel and how they are able to live in their daily life. More often than not, people with anxiety disorders also have physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches. Depending on how you talk about anxiety, you may talk more about the physical symptoms than the thoughts you have.

😰 The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by our 🥊 fight or flight 🏃‍♀️ system going into overdrive. This is because when our body feels that it is in danger or there is a threat, it starts to tell us to quickly exit the situation or defend ourselves. And our whole body gets prepared. This is why it isn’t unusual for people to have many physical symptoms like: faster breathing rate, faster heart rate, cold hands and feet, sweating, muscle tension, and nausea. It is important to note that if you are constantly anxious, you should definitely talk to your primary care clinician or mental health specialist. Over time, this constant state of being in flight or flight can affect your health. Anxiety can have many causes like life events or stressors, but it can also be caused or related to health issues such as thyroid dysfunction or asthma. So it is important to make sure that there isn’t something else that could be either causing your anxiety or making it worse.

There are many different anxiety disorders, which include:

➡️ Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is usually described as constant worry about the past, future, and about most daily activities. Physical symptoms as well as depression can often be present as a result of the constant anxiety. Often times, people who experience GAD have always been known as a “worrywart” but this disorder can be impairing and is more than just worrying a little.

➡️ Panic Disorder: Panic disorder happens when there are frequent spells or attacks of overwhelming anxiety when the person describes symptoms of feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, having increased heart rate, chest pain, sweating, feeling like they are short of breath, dizziness, and many other symptoms. Often times, people with panic disorder will be evaluated in emergency or urgent care to make sure that they are not having a heart attack. When someone has panic disorder it can be life impairing because the person worries about when they will happen. People often avoid activities because of it. And finally the focus on physical symptoms of panic can make panic worse and make the anxiety around them worse.

➡️ Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): Social anxiety disorder happens when there is a great deal of worry about interacting with people or certain situations or social places. People are often afraid to speak in certain settings, may avoid social interaction, and can worry a lot about what people think of them or how they view them in social situations. SAD can happen with panic as well.

➡️ Agoraphobia: This anxiety disorder happens when someone avoids situations in public where they may not be able to leave. The person fears having anxiety or panic in the situation and not being able to leave or get out of it. They may not feel safe in doing common daily activities like going to the grocery store. Sometimes people are unable to leave their homes.

🫠 These are just a few of the most common anxiety disorders listed here. But there are others as well. All anxiety disorders are characterized by worry and fear in activities and situations that is excessive to what the person would expect. Both emotional and physical symptoms are normally present and the person may have accompanying problems with sleep, appetite, interest in activities, energy, and focus/attention. Untreated, anxiety disorders can also lead to the person having depressive symptoms. For this reason it is important to talk to someone if you are having these symptoms. Even if they are normal to you, it does not mean that you can’t feel better than you do and be able to live well.

🫶 The good news is that anxiety disorders are very treatable. Therapy, medications, and incorporating exercise, better nutrition, good sleep hygiene, and mindfulness can all help you cope with your anxiety. Normally a combination of these strategies is the best approach. Treatment with any method requires consistency and generally at least 3-6 months of treatment, but often up to a year with regular ongoing care. Know that things can get better if you are struggling with anxiety.

Stay Safe. Stay Well.
Those Nerdy Girls

Please note: If you need additional resources, Mental Health America (MHA) offers a great way to search for resources. And if you are in need of immediate assistance, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; Hearing Support: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Additional Links:

WHO Estimates of Mental Health Burden

Our World in Data Mental Health Estimates

Global Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorders and Anxiety Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) What is anxiety?

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