Anxiety Disorders

Types, Symptoms, & Treatments

Experiencing occasional feelings of nervousness, worry, or fear is normal, especially when they arise in response to stressful, unfamiliar, or challenging situations. However, frequent, regular, intense, and lasting (almost daily for 6 months) feelings of nervousness can signal an underlying anxiety disorder, especially when they interrupt a person’s ability to function normally.


What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety describes the emotion of fear, which occurs on a spectrum that ranges from mildly nervous or worried to the extremes of feeling completely panicked. Anxiety can be normal when it is situational, meaning it occurs in response to a specific situation and goes away on its own when the situation is resolved. Most symptoms of anxiety are a direct result of a normal chain reaction called the “fight or flight” response that involves the brain, nervous system, and body.3 A part of the brain called the amygdala is largely responsible for beginning this chain reaction, acting as a threat detector that cues the nervous system to activate. Once activated, the nervous system releases stress hormones and adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing physiological changes like increased heart rate, respiration, heightened awareness and a surge of energy.

Types & Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Bipolar disorder is an umbrella term and is not diagnosable in and of itself. There are a few types of bipolar disorders that are diagnosable. The symptoms are broadly the same but differ in intensity and frequency.

There isn’t one specific cause for developing an anxiety disorder. Experts believe that the interaction of genetic vulnerability with stressful life events can trigger an anxiety condition. A person can also experience anxiety from having an underlying medical condition, taking certain medications, or a combination of any of these factors.9

Medical Causes

In some cases, an anxiety disorder can be caused by another underlying medical condition. In fact, there are certain medical conditions known to produce anxiety symptoms, such as hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disease, asthma, encephalitis, and more. By the same token, having a chronic illness can cause stress related to the implications of the medical issue thus triggering anxiety. Additionally, anxiety can be a common symptom in other mental disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.4

Situational Causes

Evidence suggests that unhealthy environments, stressful life events (death of a loved one, divorce, financial issues etc.), growing up in an unsafe environment, and experiencing childhood abuse are strongly linked to anxiety disorders. These conditions amplify the likelihood of developing anxiety, and the risks can be even higher for those with a genetic predisposition.10


As with other mental health conditions, anxiety disorders typically have a genetic component. This means that having a family member with anxiety, or any other psychological disorder, can predispose you to developing an anxiety disorder—especially if other risk factors are involved.10

Certain Medications

Some people can experience nervousness, anxiety, panic symptoms as a side effect from taking certain medications. If the person already has anxiety, these medications can make their symptoms worse. Medications that can provoke anxiety symptoms include pain relievers, anticonvulsants, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, and some over-the-counter medicines. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or pharmacist and read medication labels to learn if your prescriptions can cause anxiety.

Who Is at Greatest Risk for Anxiety Disorders?

There are certain populations that are vulnerable and/or life circumstances that increase the chances for developing an anxiety disorder. These include:6

  • Women
  • Adolescents between 13 and 18 years old
  • People with a history of or an existing of mental illness, especially depression
  • People with substance use/alcohol problems
  • Individuals with certain personality traits
  • Those with history of childhood trauma, particularly sexual abuse
  • Having a family history of mental illness
  • Certain stressful life events: Financial worries, work stress, having a chronic illness, death of a loved one, etc.

Who Can Diagnose Anxiety Disorders?

If you suspect that you may have an anxiety disorder, talking to your primary physician may be a good place to start. Your doctor can evaluate if your anxiety is related to a medical condition or something else that needs to be addressed. You can also reach out to a mental health practitioner like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health expert who can conduct a comprehensive assessment to derive a diagnosis and provide treatment as well. However, it’s important to rule out medical-related issues first.

Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can cause people a great deal of distress and can get in the way of living a full and productive life. Luckily, anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Treatment for anxiety disorders can include therapy, medication, and even lifestyle changes that can help reduce symptoms
Therapy for Anxiety Disorders
Therapy for Anxiety Disorders Therapy for anxiety is a frontline treatment, and can be highly effective at helping people learn skills and strategies to manage and reduce symptoms. Usually, therapy is offered by a licensed counselor or social worker for about an hour a week, although that can vary based on a person’s needs. Over time and as people’s symptoms improve, they often come less frequently and eventually complete treatment.
Medication Options for Anxiety Disorders
At times, medication for anxiety may be recommended as a part of treatment. Medications can be prescribed by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant, but usually not by a therapist or social worker. The three most commonly prescribed types of medication for anxiety disorders are Antidepressants, Beta blockers and Benzodiazepines, but other medications are also sometimes prescribed. Speak with your doctor about how anxiety medication can affect you and the timeline for when you’ll see results to determine whether it’s the right option for you.
Support Groups
There is vast evidence indicating that support groups can have a positive impact on mental health. By providing moral support and a feeling of social connection, these peer-led groups can help to reduce symptoms of psychological conditions, including anxiety. Consider joining an online or in-person self-help group to help you feel less alone, decrease your stress, and improve your symptoms of anxiety. Moreover, these groups can also offer a validating place to process difficult emotions with other people who are struggling with similar issues.

Lifestyle Changes to Help With Anxiety Disorders

Some lifestyle changes that may help manage anxiety include:


  • Mindfulness and meditation practices can promote relaxation, decrease stress, and distance people from anxious thoughts
  • An active lifestyle that includes regular exercise helps to balance neurochemicals and stress hormones linked to anxiety
  • A consistent sleep routine that includes 7-8 hours per night helps reduce stress, improve focus and performance, and prevent health and mental health issues
  • Cutting back on caffeine can also make a difference for those suffering with anxiety disorders, as caffeine’s stimulating properties can induce anxiety
  • Regularly spending time with friends or family is an essential part of wellness, decreasing risk and severity for both physical and mental health issues


  • Enjoying offline time is another lifestyle change that can help reduce anxiety, as some people might find that work emails, social media, or other notifications cause stress and anxiety
  • Introducing positive thoughts can help to build new thinking habits that counteract stress and anxiety
  • Practicing self-compassion through kind self-talk and consistent self-care activities has shown to be helpful in reducing a range of mental health issues, including anxiety
  • Learning more about anxiety online or from a professional can be helpful in understanding signs and symptoms, helping people feel more in control of their symptoms
  • Finding supportive people to talk to about anxiety (friends, a therapist, or a support group) can also help people have an outlet and feel less alone in their experience
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