What is Anxiety?

January 12, 2024
written by:Claire Brandon, M.D.

Anxiety is a sensory experience, and everyone feels it a little differently. Some people might experience sweaty hands and a racing heart, while others react to anxiety by shutting down and tuning out.

Anxiety is a natural, and believe it or not, an integral part of being human. It’s a normal reaction to stressful events or environments. For example, it is perfectly normal and expected for you to feel anxious before facing a difficult problem or making an important decision.

Anxiety exists to help you cope in these situations. It causes the “fight, flight, or freeze” response and helps us to make quick decisions when we need to, and get away from danger. Your anxiety is what helps you to focus and fight through, and then cope with those stressful situations.

What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

While everyone will experience some levels of anxiety throughout their life, the feeling is not as temporary or easily manageable for people with anxiety disorders.

An anxiety disorder means that the anxiety doesn’t go away, and it can get worse overtime. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can become so overwhelming that they can interfere with a person’s social, emotional, and physical health.

What Are The Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders And What Are Their Symptoms?

There are many different subtypes of anxiety disorders, and each have their individual characteristic symptoms, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – characterized by excessive worrying about ordinary stressors (job, finances, health, family, etc).
  • Panic Disorder – characterized by sudden, repeated periods of intense fear when there is no real danger, otherwise known as panic attacks. These attacks usually last several minutes or more, and generally come on suddenly without much warning.
  • Phobias – characterized by an intense fear or something that poses little to no actual danger.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder – characterized by intense fears about being separated from an attached figure, like a parent or loved one.
  • Generally speaking, the symptoms for all anxiety disorders involve some combination of anxious thoughts or beliefs, physical symptoms or sensations, and significant changes in behavior.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The exact cause for anxiety is still unknown, but it is believed that brain chemistry and genetics, stress, and environment may be factors that contribute.

There are certain events or circumstances that may include your risk of developing an anxiety disorder, including:

  • Trauma in early childhood or adolescence
  • Family history of anxiety or other mental illness
  • Physical conditions such as arrhythmia or thyroid problems

How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?

Anxiety disorders can be treated using psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Psychotherapy can help someone struggling with anxiety to think, react, and behave in different ways to the things that cause you anxiety. Your therapist can help you to learn tips and techniques to manage your stress, and improve your overall quality of life.

Talking to a licensed psychiatrist and/or mental health professional can help.

Claire Brandon, M.D.

Dr. Brandon is a dual board-certified psychiatrist in both adult psychiatry and consultation-liaison psychiatry (treatment of psychiatric illness in medically ill adults). She completed her residency and fellowship training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and did a second fellowship in public psychiatry at New York University in New York City

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