General information about Anxiety Disorders
The difference between feeling anxious and an Anxiety Disorder
Feeling anxious is a normal response to uncertainty or new, unexpected situations. But for individuals with anxiety disorders, they often have a more intense levels of anxiety during everyday activities, and when thinking about future or past events.
Common experiences in anxiety disorders include a sense of overwhelming doubt, focusing on “worse case scenarios,” and perseverating, which is sometimes described as being stuck on a negative thought. Another frequent experience are panic attacks, which are a sudden onset of overwhelming fear that lasts (usually) for a few minutes. Some sufferers feel as if they are having a heart attack during a panic attack due to the body's natural response to extreme distress.
Impacting life every day
It’s not unusual for an anxiety disorder to develop well before the teen years and continue on through late adulthood. For most people with anxiety the symptoms are tough to control and can have a negative impact on all areas of their life. Finding the confidence to meet new people, applying for a job, or traveling may feel like a never-ending battle against an unseen enemy. Work, education, relationships, and even hobbies can suffer when anxiety is in the mix.
Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders
As with any mental illness, only trained mental health and medical professionals with the appropriate education, training, and license can diagnose an anxiety disorder. Keep in mind that some disorders have similar symptoms. Feeling anxious, for example, is not an exclusive symptom of anxiety. There are also several different types of anxiety disorders, so it’s important to ensure medical and mental health histories, family history, and other information is considered before a diagnosis is made.
Check out the information on symptoms and diagnosis on our Mental Health page.
Treating Anxiety Disorders Cognitive-behavioral techniques and talk therapy can be extremely helpful in managing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Everyone is different, so therapists usually work with clients to create a treatment plan that meet an individual’s goal. There is no “cookie cutter” way of approaching mental health treatment, and Anxiety Disorders are no exemption.
Adding medication to therapy may also be beneficial. As with all decisions about physical and mental health, it’s a very personal decision best discussed with your doctor, trusted family members, and friends once you’ve educated yourself on the latest evidence-based information.
How to support someone who is dealing with anxiety or an anxiety disorder
The number one, most important, absolute mandatory rule in supporting a friend or loved one is to ask them what they need. Anxiety is usually about fear…but we don’t all fear the same things. Many people feel comfortable talking about their diagnosis, many others don’t. Some may know exactly what helps them, but a lot of people haven’t quite figured it out yet.
Whatever we do, we need to listen and respect their wishes. Opinions may be helpful, but it is best to wait until directly asked for our thoughts on someone's personal challenges. And most importantly, remind them how much they matter.
The information and resources on this website are intended to help individuals better understand the U.S. health care system, health services research and medical effectiveness, and diagnosed conditions, but not to provide specific medical or mental health advice. Individuals are urged to consult with their own qualified health care providers for all diagnosis and treatment, and for answers to personal health care questions.