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A woman dealing with anxiety


Anxiety disorders—including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, social anxiety, and panic disorder—are the most common mental health concern in the U.S. Over 40 million people, 19% of American adults, have an anxiety disorder. According to Harvard Medical School’s National Comorbidity Study, one in three Americans (31%) will experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetimes. That’s 102 million of us! 

So, if you're wondering how to tell the difference between stress and anxiety or whether you might have the signs of high-functioning anxiety—you've arrived in the right place. The good news is that anxiety disorders are very treatable. More on this below.

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Feeling nervous or anxious from time to time happens to pretty much everyone. It’s part of being human. Typically, in a normal case of stress, when the event or concern that triggered our concern ceases or ends, our anxiety symptoms subside. In contrast, here's how to recognize an anxiety disorder, and the difference between anxiety and stress. Anxiety disorders are not just a case of ‘nerves.’

According to Mental Health America (MHA), these disorders cause us to feel anxious most of the time, making some everyday situations so uncomfortable that we may avoid them entirely. For those living with anxiety disorders, we can experience “persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” Emotional anxiety symptoms can also include feelings of apprehension or dread and/or anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger. When symptoms from anxiety disorder are left unaddressed and untreated, they can be detrimental to our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and nervous systems.

Common Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may stress about impending disaster and may be overly worried about money, health, family, work, or other issues, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA).

8 signs of GAD:

• Nervousness, irritability, or feeling on edge

• A sense of impending danger, panic or doom

• An increased heart rate

• Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling

• Feeling weak or tired

• Difficulty concentrating

• Trouble sleeping

• Gastrointestinal (GI) problems

Panic disorder

ndividuals with panic disorder experience panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes occurring repeatedly and without warning. workplace

A panic attack causes powerful physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset. See all 13 symptoms of a panic attack.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects around 1-3% of the population.

OCD is characterized by unwanted, intrusive, persistent or repetitive thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that makes the sufferer feel driven to do something (compulsions) to get rid of the obsessive thoughts.

This only provides temporary relief and not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety. A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild-to-severe.

However, if OCD symptoms are severe and left untreated, the disorder can negatively impact or damage a person’s capacity to function at work, at school, or even at home.

Social anxiety disorder

More than shyness, social anxiety disorder causes intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational fear such as worrying that you might say or do something embarrassing or humiliating.

Those of us with social anxiety disorder may not take part in conversations, contribute to class discussions or offer their ideas, and may become isolated.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include:

• Finding it difficult to make eye contact, be around people we don’t know, or talk to people in social situations.

• Self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively

• Blushing, sweating, or trembling

• A rapid heart rate

• Our “minds going blank”

• Feeling sick to your stomachs

• A rigid body posture

Next Steps

Experiencing grief after loss is a natural response. If you need support, consider speaking with a mental health professional who can validate your experience. A mental health professional can also provide specific tips and ideas for healing from this loss. If you’d like to speak with a therapist, such as myself, consider scheduling a consultation. You’re not alone.

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