Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause people to suffer from excessive worry and abnormal feelings of nervousness without particular causes, which cannot be alleviated through normal actions. Anxiety disorders are the most common of emotional disorders, affecting more than 23 million Americans annually. Anxiety disorders, however, generally respond well to treatment, and the majority of patients who receive treatment experience significant relief from their symptoms.

Causes of anxiety disorders

  • biochemical changes in the brain
  • genetic vulnerability
  • psychological makeup
  • life experiences

Characteristics of Anxiety Disorders

Although specific anxiety disorders are characterized by particular symptoms, general characteristics include both emotional and physical symptoms:

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • panic, fear, apprehension
  • uncontrollable obsessive thoughts
  • repeated flashbacks (intrusive memories) of traumatic experiences
  • nightmares
  • frequent repetition of ritualized behavior such as hand washing

Physical symptoms may include:

  • sleep disturbances
  • cold or clammy hands
  • racing heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • jitteriness
  • dry mouth
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • gastrointestinal upset
  • muscular tension

Symptoms of anxiety disorders often occur for no apparent reason and are persistent. The continuing anxiety or panic are often unrelated to actual or impending experiences. Rather than functioning as a normal call to action for the body, these emotions can have devastating effects on the sufferer, often damaging relationships with friends, family, and coworkers, reducing job productivity, and making everyday experiences terrifying.

An anxiety disorder may coexist with other anxiety disorders, depression, other medical illnesses, or other conditions such as alcoholism or drug abuse.