Anxiety Disorder Care

Condition

What is Anxiety?

You might notice it when speaking in public, running late for a meeting or interviewing for a job. Your heart rate begins increasing as your adrenaline surges. This is anxiety, and it’s your body’s way of preparing itself for a possible emergency.

More than 40 million Americans have anxiety disorders, making it the most common U.S. mental illness. We’ve all experienced anxiety; however, people with anxiety disorders have intense fear and excessive worry for longer periods of time. If constant or extreme anxiety interferes with your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders take many forms, each with different symptoms. Some cause constant anxiety in daily life while others are triggered by situations like social contact. Some people have more than one anxiety disorder, symptoms usually appear by age 21, but many forms of anxiety begin in childhood or adolescence. Common types of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder, specific phobias as well as pediatric anxiety.

People with panic disorder suffer from panic attacks – sudden bouts of intense fear with strong physical reactions. Attacks can occur repeatedly and without warning, causing chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset.


Some people have one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, but the problem goes away when their stress level goes down. Others have repeated unexpected panic attacks. If you have frequent panic attacks and live in constant fear of another, you may have panic disorder.

When social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobias occur, fear and anxiety may lead you to avoid social settings in ways that affect your life. Severe stress can affect your daily choices, work, school or other activities. SAD is an ongoing behavioral health issue, but learning coping skills in therapy and taking medications can help improve your social skills so you can better engage with others.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that involves obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent, uncontrollable thoughts, urges or images that are invasive, unwelcome and alarming.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes ongoing and extreme anxiety in daily life. People with GAD live with feelings of dread, worrying constantly and uncontrollably about things like their health, loved ones, jobs and routine life events.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to traumatic and life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, accidents and serious illnesses.

Certain places, things or events can cause intense fears and feelings in some people. Examples include fear of heights, flying, confined spaces, animals, blood, public speaking and many others. Most people with phobias work hard to avoid these triggers. If a phobia is affecting social interaction, work or other key areas of your life, you should seek treatment.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

Many factors and behaviors can cause or worsen anxiety disorders, including:

  • Genetics – Studies show some families have a higher-than-average number of anxiety disorders among relatives.
  • Environment – Life experiences or traumatic events such as abuse, violence, illness or death may trigger anxiety disorders.
  • Health issues – Medical problems linked to anxiety disorders include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, respiratory disorders and others.
  • Drugs and alcohol – Drug or alcohol use, misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.
  • Personality – Studies show people who are prone to anxiety disorders show similar traits such as perfectionism, resistance to change or irritability.
  • Other behavioral health disorders – People with other illnesses like depression often have anxiety disorders.
  • Medication side effects – Medicines and over-the-counter drugs used to treat allergies, asthma, depression, thyroid conditions, Parkinson’s disease and more can cause or worsen anxiety. Discuss the side effects of any medications you take with your Mercy doctor.

Anxiety Disorder Signs

Our bodies and emotions can signal an anxiety disorder. Different types of anxiety disorders have unique signs and symptoms – but some characteristics are common to all anxiety disorders. Examples of anxiety symptoms include:

  • Feelings of dread
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Expecting the worst and watching for signs of danger
Diagnosis & Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of an anxiety disorder, Mercy's behavioral health specialists are here to help.

Learn about diagnosis and treatment options for anxiety disorders.

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