Is It Anxiety Disorder?

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“I’m terrified of spiders.” “I can’t be in enclosed spaces, especially with a lot of people.” “I’d rather stay home than go out to meet people I don’t know.

If you have feelings of dread or anxiety that are frequent enough to interfere with your life, it’s possible you may be one of 40 million Americans who have an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

It’s clear that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., but the causes are less certain. They likely involve a combination of factors, including genetics, environment, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.

Researchers also believe that hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle may contribute. In addition, traumatic events such as abuse, an attack or sexual assault may lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. 

“Anxiety can affect you your entire life, or for some it goes away when a stressful situation ends,” explains Anessa Alappatt, MD.  Either way, anxiety is treatable. You don’t have to live with it. 

Who’s At Risk?

In addition to people who have a family history of anxiety disorders, there are other groups that seem more inclined to develop anxiety disorders. 

Current thinking is that you have a greater likelihood of having an anxiety disorder if you are:

  • Shy or withdrawn since childhood
  • Female
  • Struggling economically
  • Divorced or widowed
  • Exposed to stressful life events in childhood and/or adulthood
  • Biologically related to people with anxiety disorders or parents with a history of mental disorders

People with elevated afternoon cortisol levels in their saliva also are known to have a higher risk for social anxiety disorder.

World events can also play a role. “Since COVID-19, there's been a dramatic increase in anxiety in the population,” Dr. Alappatt says. “Maybe you've been able to maintain because you've got everything under control, and then you have this outside event that you really have no control over. That can put people over the top in terms of their anxiety, even people who have never had any problems with anxiety in the past.” 

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

GAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders. It shows up as excessive worrying about everyday life. “You might be worrying about finances, health, your family, anything!” says Dr. Alappatt. “Your worrying really interferes with day-to-day living.”

Although anyone can have GAD, Dr. Alappatt says it affects more women than men, and is most common in middle age. “The more things that are happening in your life, the more chances you’ll have GAD,” she says. This might include, for example, taking care of your children and parents at the same time, while holding down a job. 

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How Do I Know If I Have Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when fear and dread of nonthreatening situations, events, places, or objects become excessive and are uncontrollable. Anxiety disorders are also diagnosed if the anxiety has lasted for at least six months and it interferes with social, work, family, or other aspects of your daily life.

“Pain is one of the most common symptoms that we see in anxiety,” says Dr. Alappatt. The muscle tension created by anxiety can cause neck pain or back pain. “You might think you hurt yourself, or you’re sleeping wrong, but it’s really the tension that’s causing you pain. Headaches are another very common symptom of anxiety.”

There is no test for anxiety disorder. Physicians diagnose it by interviewing the patient, by asking several questions, noticing the duration and intensity of symptoms and how much it’s impacting a patient’s daily life.

It’s important to see your doctor to make sure there is no physical problem causing your symptoms. Your health care provider may do a physical exam or order tests to rule out other conditions or illnesses.

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. People with these conditions do, however, frequently seek medical treatment for relief from symptoms that mimic physical illnesses. 

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Small Steps: Chronically Stressed?
Talk to your doctor, who can test your cortisol level and help you manage symptoms.