Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness or general unease about an imminent event or a situation that has an uncertain outcome. While anxiety is a normal emotion that most people experience, there are some instances when anxiety and anxious feelings can become overwhelming. If your fears and worries interfere with your everyday life, you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders can present themselves in many different ways. Most individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders will display one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of fear, panic, and unease
- Obsessive and uncontrollable thoughts, often repeating a traumatic experience or past event
- Inability to be still and calm
- Sleep problems, including frequent waking and inability to fall asleep
- Nightmares
- Various ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
- Cold or sweaty hands and feet, or numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness
- Dry mouth
- Nausea
- Muscle tension

On their own, these symptoms can be a sign of everyday anxiety. If you suffer from multiple symptoms on a regular basis, you should speak to your doctor about being assessed for an anxiety disorder. It is possible to live without the constant angst, and it is beneficial to determine the types of treatment options that are available to you.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are many different types of anxiety disorders. The most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This anxiety disorder seems to present itself without the accompaniment of a traumatic life event. It involves excessive, unprovoked, worry and tension.

Generalized Panic Disorder: Generalized panic disorder is often characterized by panic attacks. These panic attacks strike suddenly and unexpectedly. There is often no trigger or warning that a panic attack is about to occur. Panic attacks grip individuals with feelings of terror and fear and often include symptoms such as sweating, chest pain, and an increased heart rate (palpitations).

Phobia: A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that is related to the intense fear of a very specific object or situation. Common phobias include the fear of strangers, spiders, and flying. A phobia is characterized by an extreme level of fear that seems to be inappropriate to the trigger. Individuals who suffer from phobias avoid daily situations that may put them in contact with their trigger.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by constant thoughts and fears that lead individuals to perform certain rituals or routines to the detriment of their daily lives. The need to perform these routines is called an obsession. The obsession consumes all of the person’s thoughts. The specific ritual, whatever it may be, is called a compulsion. Individuals with OCD are unable to resist the urge to perform their specific rituals.

Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia: Individuals who suffer from social anxiety disorder have an overwhelming feeling of worry and self-consciousness. They fear the judgment of others or acting in such a way that might call attention to themselves or embarrass themselves. Those who suffer with SAD often avoid social interactions and become somewhat reclusive.

Postpartum Anxiety (after Childbirth): Postpartum anxiety is the lesser-known cousin of postpartum depression. Postpartum anxiety plagues as many as 10% of all new mothers. It is characterized by feeling overwhelmed, guilty, confused, scared, sad, depressed, irritated, and angry. Many moms who suffer from anxiety after childbirth struggle to bond with their new babies. They suffer from sleep problems and a lack of appetite, as well as the inability to concentrate on a task.

Anxiety in Youth: Many adolescents suffer from generalized anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health problem that is diagnosed in teens and adolescents. Anxiety in a young person is most often shown in their inability to “turn off” their flight or fight response. They seem to overreact to common, everyday situations and often have behavioral issues such as fighting, crying, temper tantrums, or the excessive seeking of a comfort object.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that develops following a traumatic or terrifying event. Common triggers for PTSD include the unexpected death of a loved one, a natural disaster, physical or sexual assault, or extended time in a stressful situation, such as during a military deployment. Those who suffer from PTSD are plagued by lasting and frightening thoughts. Their minds replay their memories of the traumatic event to the point that they often struggle with the inability to recognize any other emotions.

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders

Like most illnesses, when you seek out the advice of your doctor for an anxiety disorder, he or she will begin by questioning you about your medical history. This will include a family history of mental health problems. Your doctor will then perform a thorough physical exam in order to rule out the possibility of any physical illness or ailment acting as a trigger for your anxiety. If no physical illness is found, you will likely receive a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Most family practice doctors do not have the training or knowledge necessary to treat anxiety disorders themselves, so they must refer patients to specialists who have the ability to provide appropriate treatments.

The psychologist will interview you and perform a number of tests and assessments that measure your responses to various situations and feelings, including those presumed to trigger your anxiety. The doctor will then assess the intensity of your symptoms and their duration, as well as your ability or inability to function on a daily basis, and provide you with a diagnosis. Depending on your specific diagnosis, you will be given various types of treatment options. These most often include cognitive, behavioral, and pharmaceutical treatments.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Psychologists and psychiatrists use many different methods to treat anxiety disorders. Their exact course of treatment is determined by the specific anxiety disorder that afflicts their patient, as well as the severity of that disorder. Most doctors use a combination of different therapies to help a patient overcome their anxiety and live a normal, happy life. Treatment options include:
Psychotherapy: This is a type of counseling that addresses the emotional and physical response to a mental illness, such as an anxiety disorder. A psychologist will teach the patient various coping strategies to help them deal with the disorder and resume their daily lives.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This type of therapy empowers a person to recognize their anxiety and change their thought patterns and behaviors, which often lead them to feelings of anxiety.

Pharmaceutical Treatments: Various types of medication can be helpful to treat or eliminate the symptoms of anxiety disorders. This may include anti-depressants.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes: A focus on improved health, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep and exercise can often help lessen the effects of an anxiety disorder in most patients.

Self-Help for Anxiety Disorders

Most patients are pleasantly surprised to know that there are ways that they can help themselves overcome the grips of their anxiety disorder. Improving your life is possible in a few simple steps. Doctors recommend taking time each day for fun and relaxation. Allow yourself to unwind mentally and physically. Get an adequate amount of exercise and spend some time each day in the sun. Take care of your health and make sure that you are not taking on too many responsibilities. Create a journal that will help you recognize your triggers and release your feelings of worry. Recognize that fear and uncertainties are aspects of everyday life. You must learn to accept them and not allow these feelings to take over.

Myths about Anxiety

The Internet is a wealth of information about many different subjects. Unfortunately, much of the information that you find on the Internet regarding anxiety is simply untrue. There are many myths and promises of a quick-fix floating around the Internet. Here are some of the most common myths about anxiety.

1. Avoiding your triggers is a great way to beat your disorder.
Fact: Avoiding your triggers will not help you overcome your anxiety. If anything, it will leave you feeling demoralized and even more fearful. Psychologists caution that avoiding anxiety and your triggers can do more to strengthen your anxiety than to lessen it.
2. Anxiety is often caused by issues that date back to your childhood, so the most effective treatments must focus on that period of your life.
Fact: This might be the case for some people. However, research has led psychologists to believe that focusing on the present time and equipping their patients with the knowledge and tools that they need to overcome their daily feelings of anxiety and fear is a far more effective means of treating anxiety, regardless of its roots.
3. Anti-anxiety medications are addictive and should be avoided at all costs.
Fact: While most therapists and psychologists focus on behavioral therapies to help treat the symptoms of anxiety, there are many different medications that have proven to be very helpful to patients dealing with anxiety disorders. Some anti-anxiety medications lend themselves to becoming ineffective overtime, but first line medications for anxiety are not addictive.
4. Medication is the only treatment for anxiety.
Fact: This is not true. There are many different methods of behavioral and cognitive therapies that are incredibly effective at helping patients overcome their anxiety without the use of medication.
5. Eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest will cure all of your problems.
Fact: These lifestyle improvements are a great way to help beat your anxiety. However, for severe cases of anxiety, these changes alone will not be enough to rid you of your problems. Lifestyle changes, along with behavioral and cognitive therapies, will help you overcome your anxiety for good.

Author's Bio: 

Dorie Wicklund is the Editor-In-Chief of the Therapist Unlimited website ( and e-magazine. Our team of writers is excited to share our tips and information related to mental health, living a balanced life, and raising healthy children.