What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal and helpful reaction to potentially unpleasant or dangerous situations. It increases our awareness of what’s happening around us. For most people, anxiety is short-lived and naturally disappears once the situation has passed. However, for an estimated 40 million adults in the United States who have some form of anxiety disorder, ongoing and irrational psychological distress is experienced. This distress may also manifest in physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or chest pain.
- Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious, restless, or tense
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty focusing or thinking about anything other than the current worry
- Trouble sleeping
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Difficulty controlling worry
- The inclination to avoid things that trigger anxiety
The causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood. Traumatic experiences, such as accidents, appear to trigger anxiety disorders in individuals who are already prone to anxiety. Genetic factors can also play a role. In some cases, anxiety may be linked to an underlying medical condition, and anxiety signs and symptoms may be the first indicators of a clinical ailment. If your doctor suspects that your anxiety may have a medical cause, they may order tests to look for signs of an underlying issue.
Examples of clinical issues that can be linked to anxiety include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
- Drug misuse or withdrawal
- Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines), or other medications
- Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
- Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones
These factors may increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder:
- Children who have experienced abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events are at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
- Adults who have experienced a traumatic accident can also develop anxiety disorders.
- Stress due to an illness. Having a medical problem or serious illness can cause significant stress about issues such as treatment and the future.
- Stress accumulation. A major event or a series of smaller stressful life circumstances may trigger excessive anxiety, such as a family death, work pressure, or ongoing financial concerns.
- Individuals with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others.
- Other mental health disorders. Individuals with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
- Having close family members with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can run in families.
- Substance use or abuse. Drug or alcohol use, abuse, or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.