Everyone experiences feelings of stress, anxiety and worry from time to time. But if you’re feeling constantly on edge and worrying continuously, to the point where you’re unable to relax and go about your daily activities, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 6.8 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. The condition affects women twice as often as it affects men. Anxiety rarely occurs on its own â€” instead, it is often accompanied by another anxiety disorder, depression or substance abuse.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
The National Institute of Mental Health defines generalized anxiety disorder as a condition in which the sufferer is constantly worried and tense, even when there is no reason to feel this way.
Anxiety disorder goes beyond everyday fears and worries. Butterflies in the stomach or a pounding heart before an important test or a job interview are normal, healthy defense mechanisms. If the body senses danger, it sends a rush of adrenaline through our system so that we’re ready to fight or flee if necessary.
Feelings of worry, dread or anxiety provoked by dangerous or unsettling situations are perfectly normal. In contrast, people with an anxiety disorder are constantly plagued by feelings of anxiety, even if they know their worries are unfounded.
Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
Following are some common anxiety disorder symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling out of breath
- Having to use the bathroom frequently
- Hot flashes
- Muscle aches
- Muscle tension
- Trouble relaxing
People with anxiety disorder often startle easily and feel constantly on edge. They expect disaster at any moment and are often overly concerned with finances, health issues, or problems at work or at home.
How to Get a Correct Diagnosis for Anxiety
If you recognize the above symptoms, see your health practitioner or a psychologist to see if you have symptoms diagnostic of anxiety. A doctor will typically diagnose anxiety disorder if a person has been worrying excessively about many everyday problems for at least six months.
Your doctor will screen you for anxiety disorder symptoms by asking a series of questions about your recent patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings. Be as honest as possible when answering these questions, as this will help your doctor provide an accurate diagnosis for anxiety.
Once your doctor makes a diagnosis of anxiety, treatment generally includes a combination of medication and therapy. If you have an underlying condition, such as depression, it must be addressed as well in order for your treatment to be effective at preventing anxiety disorder symptoms.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Staff. (2010). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved April 18, 2010, from the NIMH website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
Richards, T.A. (2010). What is generalized anxiety disorder? Retrieved April 18, 2010, from the Anxiety Network website: http://www.anxietynetwork.com/gawhat.html.
Smith, M. and Jaffe-Gill, E. (2008). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved April 18, 2010, from the Help Guide website: http://helpguide.org/mental/generalized_anxiety_disorder.htm.