Anxiety Disorders

 In Health Library

What are they and what can you do?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be a normal “alarm system” alerting you to danger. Imagine coming home and finding a burglar in your home. Your heart beats fast. Your palms get sweaty: Your mind races. In this situation, anxiety can add an extra spark to help you get out of danger. Under more normal but busy times, it can give you energy to help you get things done. But sometimes anxiety can be out of control, giving you a sense of dread and fear for no apparent reason. This kind of anxiety is a real problem and can disrupt your life. Anxiety disorders refer to a number of conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, which are explained in this handout.

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is ongoing, excessive worry or fear that is out of proportion to what you would expect -for instance, constantly worrying about a child who is perfectly healthy. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include the following:

  • Muscle tension
  • •Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sleep
  • Not being able to concentrate

Panic disorder

Is another type of anxiety: It occurs when you have episodes of intense fear that starts abruptly: These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks feel like your body’s alarm system has been triggered when there is no danger. Panic attacks can include the following symptoms:

  • Chest pressure or chest Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in the throat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Fear of losing control
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Fear of dying

What causes anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders can begin during or after a stressful event in your life, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce. Some people say they have been anxious their whole lives. Other people suddenly become anxious without being able to point to a reason. Anxiety may also be related to a side effect of a medicine or to an illness. Anxiety disorders often run in families.

Can anxiety disorders be treated?

Yes. Talk to your family doctor if you think you have a problem with anxiety. He or she can help you form a plan to develop skills to cope with your anxiety: Your doctor may also suggest counseling, medicine, or both. A specific form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be very helpful in treating most anxiety disorders.


Tips on coping with anxiety:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid abuse of alcohol or other substances.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Learn and practice ways to relax.
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