Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling powerless
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if:
- You feel like you’re worrying too much and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
- Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you
- You feel depressed, have trouble with alcohol or drug use, or have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
- You think your anxiety could be linked to a physical health problem
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — seek emergency treatment immediately
As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to becoming anxious. Inherited traits also can be a factor.
Examples of medical problems that can be linked to anxiety include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
- Drug abuse or withdrawal
- Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Rare tumors that produce certain “fight-or-flight” hormones
- Premenstrual syndrome
Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of certain medications.
It’s more likely that your anxiety may be due to an underlying medical condition if:
- You don’t have any blood relatives (such as a parent or sibling) with an anxiety disorder
- You didn’t have an anxiety disorder as a child
- You don’t avoid certain things or situations because of anxiety
- You have a sudden occurrence of anxiety that seems unrelated to life events and you didn’t have a previous history of anxiety
- Depression (which often occurs with anxiety disorder)
- Substance abuse
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Digestive or bowel problems
- Poor quality of life
Tests and diagnosis
To help diagnose an anxiety disorder and rule out other conditions, your doctor or mental health provider may have you fill out a psychological questionnaire. Your doctor will probably do a physical exam to look for signs that your anxiety might be linked to a medical condition.
Treatments and drugs
The two main treatments for anxiety disorders are psychotherapy and medications. You may benefit most from a combination of the two.
Also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling, psychotherapy involves working with a therapist to reduce your anxiety symptoms. It can be an effective treatment for anxiety.
Several types of medications are used to treat anxiety disorders, including those below.
- Antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include fluoxetine , imipramine, paroxetine, sertraline and venlafaxine . Citalopram and escitalopram also can be effective.
- An anti-anxiety medication called buspirone may be used on an ongoing basis.
- In limited circumstances, your doctor may prescribe one of these sedatives for relief of anxiety symptoms. Examples include alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam , diazepam, and lorazepam. Benzodiazepines are generally used only for relieving acute anxiety on a short-term basis. Because they can be habit-forming, these medications aren’t a good choice if you’ve had problems with alcohol or drug abuse.
Lifestyle and home remedies
- Keep physically active.
- Avoid alcohol and other sedatives.
- Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking coffee.
- Use relaxation techniques.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Eat healthy.
There’s no way to predict for certain what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, but you can take steps to reduce the impact of symptoms if you’re anxious:
- Get help early.
- Keep a journal. Keeping track of your personal life can help you and your mental health provider identify what’s causing you stress and what seems to help you feel better.
- Stay active.
- Learn time management techniques.
- Avoid unhealthy alcohol or drug use.