Anxiety is an unpleasant complex combination of emotions often accompanied by physical sensations such as heart palpitations (irregular heart beat), nausea, angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, tension headache, and nervousness.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year. Only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment. Anxiety disorders are reported to cost the United States more than $42 billion a year.
Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety that can be caused by a stressful event (such as testing, a job interview, the death of a loved one, or public performance/speaking), anxiety disorders last at least six months and can become worse if not treated.
Anxiety disorders can commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses, including alcohol or substance abuse, depression, or bipolar illness, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse.
According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), individuals with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than non-sufferers.
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types of anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives and some nervousness in anticipation of a real situation. However, if a person cannot shake unwarranted worries, or if the feelings are jarring to the point of avoiding everyday activities, he or she most likely has an anxiety disorder. GAD is characterized by excessive, unrealistic worry that lasts six months or more. In adults, the anxiety may focus on issues such as health, money, or career. Physical symptoms may also appear such as nervousness or heart palpitations. GAD affects about 5% of Americans in the course of their lives and is more common in women than in men. Some experts believe that it is under diagnosed and more common than any other anxiety disorder. GAD usually begins in childhood and often becomes a chronic ailment, particularly when left untreated. Depression in adolescence may be a strong predictor of GAD in adulthood. Depression commonly accompanies this anxiety disorder.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): In OCD, individuals are plagued by persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears. Typical obsessions include worrying about being contaminated with germs or fears of behaving improperly or acting violently. The obsessions may lead an individual to perform a ritual or routine (compulsions) such as washing hands, repeating phrases, or hoarding. Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurs equally in men and women, and it affects about 2-3% of people over a lifespan. About 80% of people who develop OCD show signs of the disorder in childhood, although the disorder usually develops fully in adulthood.
Panic attacks and panic disorder: Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks strike without warning and usually last a terrifying 15-30 minutes. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. Agoraphobia is characterized by individuals likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane. Studies indicate that the prevalence of panic disorder among adults is between 1.6-2% and is much higher in adolescence, 3.5-9%. In one study, 18% of adult patients with panic disorder reported the onset of the disorder before ten years of age. In general, however, panic disorder tends to begin in late adolescence and peaks at around 25 years of age.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD can follow an exposure to a traumatic event such as a sexual or physical assault, witnessing a death, the unexpected death of a loved one, or natural disaster. There are three main symptoms associated with PTSD: "reliving" of the traumatic event (such as flashbacks and nightmares); avoidance behaviors (such as avoiding places related to the trauma) and emotional numbing (detachment from others); and physiological arousal such as difficulty sleeping, irritability or poor concentration. Researchers now know that anyone, even children, can develop PTSD if they have experienced, witnessed, or participated in a traumatic occurrence-especially if the event was life threatening. Studies estimate a lifetime risk for PTSD in the United States of up to 8%. People exposed to traumatic events, of course, are at highest risk, but many people can go through such events and not experience PTSD. Studies also estimate that 6-30% or more of trauma survivors develop PTSD, with children and young people being among those at the high end of the range. Women have the twice the risk of PTSD as men. PTSD can also occur in people not directly involved with a traumatic event.
Phobias: A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, one might go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing feared.
Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. It consists of crying and distress when a child is separated from a parent or away from home. If separation anxiety persists beyond a certain age or interferes with daily activities, it may be a sign of separation anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety / social phobia: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. This intense anxiety may lead to avoidance behavior. Physical symptoms associated with this disorder include heart palpitations, faintness, blushing and profuse sweating. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia. Social phobia is currently estimated to be the third most common psychiatric disorder in the United States. Studies have reported a prevalence of 7-12% in Western nations.