Anxiety disorders differ from the normal feelings of nervousness or worry, and include excessive fear that is usually irrational. For an individual with an anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety do not just go away and may get worse over time.

Most people have experienced a time when they felt overwhelmed with work, personal issues, or maybe even had a huge fight with a significant other. These situations can lead to stress or worry, and almost everyone experiences this feeling at some point in their life. Anxiety is a normal emotion. It can affect an individual emotionally as well as physically, even causing serious health issues.

What is Anxiety?

While normal stress might cause an individual to be fearful of a dangerous object, animal, or situation; a person with anxiety would experience fear and avoidance of an object or situation that poses little or no danger at all. Anxiety disorders differ from the normal feelings of nervousness or worry and include excessive fear that is usually irrational.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

For an individual with an anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety do not just go away and may get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as work productivity, school, and relationships. There are numerous categories of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.  Each type comes with its own unique fears and symptoms.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder display extreme anxiety that occurs almost daily for at least 6 months. The anxiety can be triggered by a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday life circumstances. Generalized anxiety disorder can cause significant difficulties in social interactions, school, and work.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Struggle controlling feelings of worry
  • Easily exhausted; physically and mentally
  • Short-tempered or irritable
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

Social Anxiety Disorder

Individuals with social anxiety disorder have a general, intense fear of social situations where they may embarrass themselves. They worry that actions linked with their anxiety will be negatively viewed by others, leading the individual to feel embarrassed. This concern often causes people with social anxiety to avoid public places or social events.

Individuals with social anxiety disorder may experience fear of the following:

  • Enclosed spaces
  • Wide open spaces
  • Public transportation
  • Being in crowded places
  • Leaving their home alone

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Individuals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may have a preoccupation or a mental personal obligation to a certain task.  These obsessive thoughts and urges, or repetitive behaviors, are usually beyond the individual’s control and affect their job, school and relationships. Obsessive compulsive disorder is not the same as having nervous habits like biting nails. An obsession would be thinking an individual will be at risk of injury if they do not put their clothes on in a certain order each morning. Compulsive habits might include turning the door lock several times or flipping the light switch a specific amount of times, every time.

These symptoms may include:

  • Needing to have items in symmetrical or perfect order
  • Fears of losing something
  • Fear of germs or sickness
  • Fear of harm coming to self or others
  • Excessive cleaning of a body part
  • Repeatedly counting items and checking on things such as checking door locks or if the oven is turned off

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and potentially incapacitating condition that can occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events. Some examples of these traumatic events include:

  • Natural disaster
  • War
  • Serious accident
  • Terrorist incident
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Violent personal assault such as rape

Most individuals who experience these situations recover from them; however, individuals with PTSD continue to be severely affected by depression and anxiety for months or even years following the event.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Flashbacks; reliving the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, or activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Hopeless thoughts about the future
  • Nightmares about traumatic events
  • Trouble sleeping and concentrating
  • Irritability, angry outbursts and aggressive behavior

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks usually lasting for several minutes or longer. Panic attacks are categorized by a fear of losing control even when there is no real danger. The physical feeling of panic disorder is compared to the feeling of having a heart attack.

Individuals with panic disorder frequently try to prevent any future anxiety attack by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. An individual with panic disorder may become discouraged because they cannot carry out their normal routines like going to work, making a trip to the grocery store, or even driving. Anxiety treatment can help individuals in how to stop an anxiety attack.

Panic Disorder anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feelings of imminent doom
  • Feelings of being out of control
  • Shortness of breath; feelings of suffocation
  • Rapid heart rate and sweating

Specific Phobias

phobia is an intense fear of, or loathing for, specific objects or circumstances. Although some situations may account for rational fears, an individual with specific phobia anxiety disorder has a level of fear that does not match with the actual danger caused by the situation or object.

Symptoms of specific phobias may include:

  • Irrational or excessive worry about a feared object or situation
  • Avoidance of feared object or situation
  • Intense anxiety when encountering a feared situation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating and increased heart rate

Common phobias include flying, heights, specific animals, the sight of blood, or receiving shots.

Short-Term Anxiety Disorders

Short-term anxiety usually increases an individual’s breathing and can cause a feeling of hyperventilation. Heart rate also increases as the blood flows to the brain, where it is needed during the anxiety attack. More intense anxiety attack symptoms may include lightheadedness and nausea. The ongoing state of anxiety can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health.

Short-term anxiety disorders often resolve themselves with the removal of a stressor. A few anxiety disorders that are typically short-term include:

  • Acute stress disorder –immediately following a trauma
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder – induced by substance use or abuse, as well as withdrawal
  • Adjustment disorder with anxious features –a major life-changing event – like getting married or moving to another city.

Long-Term Anxiety Disorders

Other types of anxiety disorders develop and remain with the individual for a long period of time. Many of the long-term anxiety types begin in childhood and continue into adulthood.

Examples of long-term anxiety disorders include:

  • Agoraphobia – a fear of having a panic attack in a public place where escape would be embarrassing or difficult.
  • Anxiety due to a general medical condition –generally develops in relation to illnesses like heart conditions.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia, also referred to as social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can be triggered by life experiences, such as traumatic events, however, genetics can also be a factor. For some individuals, anxiety may be linked to underlying health issues.

For some people, anxiety may be linked to an underlying health issue like heart disease, diabetes, drug abuse, irritable bowel syndrome, withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, and thyroid problems.

Though there are many links to anxiety, researchers don’t know exactly what causes the disorder in an individual. Like many forms of mental illness, they branch from a combination of chemical changes in the brain as well as one’s environmental stresses and genetics.

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

An individual who suffers from anxiety disorders will experience rapid heartbeat and breathing along with sweating. The chest may feel tight as it is difficult to catch one’s breath. There is a biological chain reaction that occurs when we encounter a stressful event or potential stressors.

Other physical symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent urination

Psychological symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Feeling tense or uneasy
  • Irrational feelings of fright
  • Experiencing ruminative or obsessive thoughts

Anxiety Disorders in Children

Although every child will experience anxiety in certain situations, such as test-taking or speaking in front of their class, most don’t develop anxiety disorders. Those who do, however, will appear anxious most of the time and have one or more of the following signs:

  • Excessive worry most days of the week
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
  • Trouble concentrating

These complications can affect a child’s routine functioning, especially when it comes to focusing on school work. It is normal for children to avoid talking about how they feel because they are worried that others will not understand or that they will be made fun of.

Anxiety Disorders in Adults

Recognizing anxiety disorder in older adults can be challenging because aging comes with a higher occurrence of medical problems. Some symptoms of anxiety in an adult may include headaches, back pain, or a rapid heartbeat which may seem normal problems for many. Because the symptoms may seem to be caused by physical aging, adults are reluctant to report these symptoms. This creates difficulty in separating a medical condition from symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

With adult patients, it is important to ask specific questions to determine if the symptoms are anxiety related, including the following:

  • Is there anything going on in your life that is causing you concern?
  • Can you say what triggers your feelings of anxiety?
  • What were you doing when you noticed the chest pain?
  • Do you find that you have a hard time getting over things that make you feel stressed?
  • What were you thinking about when you felt your heart start to race?

Anxiety Disorders Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 13 individuals worldwide suffers from anxiety. The organization reported that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the world with the most common anxiety disorder types being specific phobia and social phobia. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older, or around 18% of the population any given year.

Panic disorder is more prevalent in woman than men and often has an onset during the late teen or early adulthood years.  Approximately 7.7 million individuals, age 18 and older, in the United States, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Available anxiety statistics tell us that only about a third of those suffering from anxiety disorders seek professional anxiety treatment, even though the disorders are decidedly treatable.

Who is at Risk of Developing an Anxiety Disorder?

Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Risk factors may vary from one type of anxiety disorder to another, though there are some general risk factors for anxiety disorders. They include:

  • Straits of shyness or behavioral self-consciousness in childhood
  • History of mental illness in biological relatives
  • Trauma or exposure to stressful events
  • Medical or physical conditions such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias
  • Drug or alcohol use or abuse

Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million adults every year, but these conditions are treatable. Learn about the types, causes and symptoms of anxiety disorders. If you are or a loved one is in need of help or assistance in treatment, The Recovery Village is one facility that can help. People who struggle with anxiety symptoms can receive help from one of the facilities located in five states throughout the country. If you or a loved one suffers from anxiety, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more


Are Anxiety Disorders Chemical Imbalances?

No. Chemical imbalances can cause anxiety disorder, but the two are not interchangeable. According to the Social Anxiety Institute website, chemical imbalances occur because the brain’s neural pathways sometimes cause irrational thoughts. Anxiety is a result of these chemical imbalances and abnormal thought behaviors.

Due to genetics or environmental factors, or a combination of both, people can become prone to anxiety. People who experience excessive overthinking related to anxiety — also called rumination — can take certain medications that can correct the chemical imbalance and diminish their anxiety.

Are Anxiety Disorders Considered Mental Illnesses?

Yes, anxiety disorders are mental illnesses, which are also called mental disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition lists anxiety disorders as a classification of mental conditions. Mental disorders affect people’s thoughts and behaviors in debilitating ways.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry, fear or stress related to specific or general situations. These anxious feelings can impact a person’s ability to function in society.

Can an Anxiety Disorder Cause Insomnia?

Yes. The effects of anxiety can cause insomnia, which is a consistent difficulty falling or staying asleep. One of the main symptoms of anxiety is rumination, which is the process of continually thinking about the same thoughts or concerns. People who have anxiety ruminate about their self-worth, relationships with others or daily life events. Often, rumination involves negative feelings or thoughts.

Rumination can cause the brain to remain active late at night, which can prevent someone from falling asleep at a regular time. If this occurs regularly, someone may have anxiety-driven insomnia.

Can Anxiety Cause Psychosis?

While severe anxiety can factor into why someone has psychosis, there are more likely causes. According to WebMD, people can develop psychosis from:

  • Genetics
  • Substance abuse
  • Prescription medication misuse
  • Experiencing traumatic events or brain injuries, strokes or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Having schizophrenia or bipolar disorder

Anxiety disorders can be one of the multiple causes of psychosis, but the condition is unlikely to cause psychosis on its own.

Can Anxiety Disorders Cause Hair Loss?

Yes, anxiety disorders can cause hair loss. Stress, which is a primary symptom of anxiety, can cause hair loss, a cause-and-effect relationship known as telogen effluvium. Stress disrupts the normal growth and rest cycle for a person’s hair.

When telogen effluvium occurs, people can lose hair in clumps while brushing or stylizing their hair. However, hair loss from this condition is often temporary and stops when stress diminishes.

Can Anxiety Disorders Cause Paranoia?

Yes, anxiety can cause paranoia in specific cases. One example is when a person’s anxiety-driven thoughts involve irrational fears of being harmed or slighted, which is a symptom of paranoia. People who have anxiety often worry that others will judge what they say or do. Stressing about how other people view you is a common symptom of anxiety and can lead to paranoid thoughts. However, people can have paranoid thoughts and not have paranoia.

Do Anxiety Disorders Worsen With Age?

Anxiety can worsen with age due to the buildup of life stressors, such as job loss, health problems and deaths of loved ones. Older people are more likely than younger people to have experienced numerous stressful events — and thus are more likely to experience them in higher frequency.

Other people may experience less anxiety the older they get. If at a young age someone recognizes that they have anxiety, they may receive treatment that diminishes the effects of the disorder as they age. In this scenario, anxiety could lessen with age.

How Is Anxiety Different From Nervousness?

Anxiety is excessive worry or fear that affects an individual’s ability to function. Nervousness is the state of feeling nervous and is usually limited to one temporary experience. Nervousness does not overwhelm a person’s thoughts or behaviors the same way anxiety does.

Nervousness is a symptom of an anxiety disorder and excessive nervousness can lead to anxiety, but the two are not interchangeable. Anxiety involves a persistent negative feeling about oneself and one’s life. Anxiety often isn’t limited to just one situation or experience.

How Many Kinds of Anxiety Disorders Are There?

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there are five main types of anxiety disorders. They are:

  1. Generalized anxiety disorder
  2. Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia)
  3. Panic disorder
  4. Post-traumatic stress disorder
  5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

The American Psychiatric Association also lists agoraphobia and separation anxiety disorder as additional types, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) includes selective mutism and specific phobia as versions of anxiety disorder.

Many of these disorders share the same symptoms (unnatural amounts of nervousness, stress and paranoia) and can co-occur. For instance, many people who have agoraphobia also have a panic disorder.

Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

No, anxiety is not a mood disorder. According to the DSM-5, anxiety disorders are their own class of mental health issues while the mood disorder class includes separate conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Anxiety can co-occur with depression, bipolar disorder or other mood-related conditions but they are not identical.

Mood disorders involve frequent and, at times, uncontrollable changes in a person’s overall mood. People who have a mood disorder can experience severe manic or depressive states for days or weeks at a time. Anxiety disorder involves excessive worrying about specific aspects of a person’s life.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.