Anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s your brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting you of potential danger ahead.
Everyone feels anxious now and then. For example, you may worry when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision.
Occasional anxiety is OK. But anxiety disorders are different. They’re a group of mental illnesses that cause constant and overwhelming anxiety and fear. The excessive anxiety can make you avoid work, school, family get-togethers, and other social situations that might trigger or worsen your symptoms.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized anxiety disorder- You feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.
Panic disorder- You feel sudden, intense fear that brings on a panic attack. During a panic attack you may break out in a sweat, have chest pain, and have a pounding heartbeat (palpitations). Sometimes you may feel like you’re choking or having a heart attack.
Social anxiety disorder- Also called social phobia, this is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. You obsessively worry about others judging you or being embarrassed or ridiculed.
Specific phobias- You feel intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as heights or flying. The fear goes beyond what’s appropriate and may cause you to avoid ordinary situations.
Agoraphobia- You have an intense fear of being in a place where it seems hard to escape or get help if an emergency occurs. For example, you may panic or feel anxious when on an airplane, public transportation, or standing in line with a crowd.
Separation anxiety- Little kids aren’t the only ones who feel scared or anxious when a loved one leaves. Anyone can get separation anxiety disorder. If you do, you’ll feel very anxious or fearful when a person you’re close with leaves your sight. You’ll always worry that something bad may happen to your loved one.
Selective mutism- This is a type of social anxiety in which young kids who talk normally with their family don’t speak in public, like at school.
Medication-induced anxiety disorder- Use of certain medications or illegal drugs, or withdrawal from certain drugs, can trigger some symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Disorder Causes and Risk Factors
Researchers don’t know exactly what brings on anxiety disorders. A complex mix of things play a role in who does and doesn’t get one.
Anxiety Disorder Treatments
There are many treatments to reduce and manage symptoms of anxiety disorder. Usually, people with anxiety disorder take medicine and go to counseling.
Medication- Several types of drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about the pros and cons of each medicine to decide which one is best for you.
Antidepressants- Modern antidepressants (SSRIs and SNRIs) are typically the first drugs prescribed to someone with an anxiety disorder. Examples of SSRIs are escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluoxetine (Prozac). SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta)and venlafaxine (Effexor).
Bupropion- This is another type of antidepressant commonly used to treat chronic anxiety. It works differently than SSRIs and SNRIs.
Other antidepressant- These include tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). They are less commonly used because side effects, like drops in blood pressure, dry mouth, blurry vision, and urinary retention, can be unpleasant or unsafe for some people.
Benzodiazepines- Your doctor may prescribe one of these drugs if you’re having persistent panicky feelings or anxiety. They help lower anxiety. Examples are alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin). They work quickly, but you can become dependent on them. Usually, they’re meant to be an add-on to your anxiety disorder treatment and you shouldn’t take them for a long time.
Beta-blockers- This type of high blood pressure drug can help you feel better if you’re having physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, trembling, or shaking. A beta-blocker may help you relax during an acute anxiety attack.
Anticonvulsants- Used to prevent seizures in people with epilepsy, these drugs also can relieve certain anxiety disorder symptoms.
Antipsychotics. Low doses of these drugs can be added to help make other treatments work better.
Buspirone (BuSpar)- This anti-anxiety drug is sometimes used to treat chronic anxiety. You’ll need to take it for a few weeks before seeing full symptom relief.