Key Points about Anxiety

  • Anxiety disorders are characterized by chronic, intense, and excessive worry that is hard to control and interferes with your daily life. 
  • You may be more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if you have a family member with the condition, if you misuse drugs or alcohol, if you experienced childhood trauma, or if you have an accumulation of stressful events in your life. 
  • Primary treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy and medication.
  • Call your doctor if your worries are persistent, uncontrollable, or get in the way of your daily life. 

Overview

Experiencing anxiety is a normal, even healthy, part of life. Anxiety disorders, however, are more than just occasional feelings of worry. People with anxiety disorders experience chronic, intense, and excessive worry that is difficult to control and makes it hard to function in the daily activities of life. 

Psychotherapy and medications are the primary treatments for anxiety disorders. Your provider may recommend one or the other, or a combination of both. 

Call your doctor if your worries are persistent, uncontrollable, or are interfering with your daily functioning.  

Anxiety Causes

While the causes of anxiety disorders are not fully known, factors that may play a role include:

  • Experiencing traumatic events, which can trigger anxiety disorders in people who are predisposed
  • Inherited traits

Sometimes, anxiety is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. The following are health issues that can be linked to anxiety:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma
  • Drug or alcohol misuse or withdrawal
  • Chronic pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Anxiety can also be a side effect of taking specific medications. 

The following are signs that your anxiety could be caused by an existing health issue:

  • You do not have any immediate family members with an anxiety disorder
  • You have not had an anxiety disorder in the past, or as a child
  • Your anxiety does not lead you to avoid certain situations or things
  • Your anxiety starts suddenly and seems unrelated to events in your life

Anxiety risk factors

The following factors can increase your likelihood of developing anxiety:

  • Having experienced trauma or abuse as a child
  • An accumulation of stress from life situations, such as losing a family member or having a chronic illness
  • Having an existing mental health condition, such as depression
  • Having a family history of anxiety disorders
  • Using or abusing drugs or alcohol

Anxiety symptoms

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feelings of nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • Having feelings of impending danger or doom
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hyperventilation or rapid breathing
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Trouble focusing on the present moment
  • Thinking constantly about the subject of your worry
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Avoiding things or situations that worsen your anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders, which include:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Anxiety disorders caused directly by underlying health problems
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Selective mutism
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Other specific phobias
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder

Anxiety complications

Anxiety disorders can impact your life beyond increasing your worry. Anxiety disorders can also contribute to:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Sleeping problems
  • Digestive and bowel issues
  • Impaired function at work or school
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Social isolation
  • Headaches or chronic pain
  • Suicide

Anxiety prevention

While you cannot predict when anxiety will develop or who it will affect, there are measures you can take when you start to experience feelings of anxiety:

  • Avoid alcohol and drug use
  • Stay active, by continuing to participate in activities and social interactions that can ease your worry
  • Seek help early if your anxiety is interfering with your daily life

Anxiety diagnosis

Your primary care doctor may be the first professional you consult when you are concerned about anxiety. Your doctor can perform a physical examination to determine whether there is an underlying physical condition that is causing your symptoms. If there is no underlying medical condition present, your doctor may refer you to behavioral and mental health specialists to receive further guidance and care. 

Your psychiatrist can diagnose and treat anxiety disorders. Other clinical staff members and licensed professionals at can provide counseling and additional support following a diagnosis. 

When diagnosing an anxiety disorder, your psychiatrist or mental health provider may:

  • Conduct a psychological evaluation, during which you and your provider may discuss your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and try to identify any coexisting psychological issues
  • Consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), to compare your symptoms to the symptoms defined there

Anxiety treatment

Psychotherapy and medications are the primary treatments for anxiety disorders. Your provider may recommend one or the other, or a combination of both. 

Psychotherapy often involves:

  • Talking with a therapist to work through and reduce your anxiety symptoms
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This method is designed to develop skills that can mitigate symptoms and help you manage your anxiety long-term. 

Finding the right medication to treat anxiety can take some trial and error, as everyone’s needs are different, and people may be affected differently by various medications. 

Your provider may prescribe:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Benzodiazepines, or beta blockers, for short-term relief from symptoms of anxiety

When to seek care

It is always better to seek help earlier rather than later. Anxiety disorders may become more complicated to treat the longer you wait.

Set up an appointment with a doctor if you:

  • Feel that you are worrying too often or constantly, and that you cannot control it
  • If your worrying is getting in the way of your daily life, including your work and your relationships
  • Are upset or troubled by the presence and amount of your worrying
  • Are depressed or have additional mental health concerns besides anxiety
  • Suspect your anxiety is due to a physical health condition
  • Are abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms
  • Have suicidal thoughts or actions

Next Steps

The team of licensed professionals and clinical experts at can help you manage symptoms of your anxiety disorder long-term.