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How To Tell If You Have An Anxiety Disorder

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How To Know If You Have Anxiety

Depression rates have spiked in both teens and adults. Here’s what you should know.

Reviewed by:

  • Medical Board of California, Medical License
  • American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, General and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine
  • Residency in Psychiatry University of Pennsylvania
  • Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Stanford University

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder

With GAD, you may feel extreme and unrealistic worry and tension even if theres nothing to trigger these feelings. Most days, you may worry a lot about various topics, including health, work, school and relationships. You may feel that the worry continues from one thing to the next.

Physical symptoms of GAD can include restlessness, difficulty concentrating and sleeping problems.

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Can Anxiety Disorders Be Prevented

You cant prevent anxiety disorders. But you can take steps to control or reduce your symptoms:

  • Check out medications: Talk to a healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies. Some of these contain chemicals that may make anxiety symptoms worse.
  • Limit caffeine: Stop or limit how much caffeine you consume, including coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Seek help: Get counseling and support if you experienced a traumatic or disturbing event. Doing so can help prevent anxiety and other unpleasant feelings from disrupting your life.

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Try To Eat Balanced Meals

Nourishing your body with whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, can help you get the nutrition you need and it could also help improve your symptoms.

Caffeine, refined sugars, and processed foods, on the other hand, could potentially worsen symptoms of both anxiety and depression.

You dont need to cut these out of your diet entirely, but try to balance them with nutrient-dense foods when possible.

There Are Effective Treatments For Anxiety

What Are Some Symptoms of Anxiety?

Treatment is tailored to the diagnosis. Effective options include:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as skipping caffeine, exercising regularly, and avoiding medicines or substances that might cause anxiety symptoms.
  • Mind-body approaches, such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and techniques to ease muscle tension and promote calm.
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. CBT teaches people to challenge and reframe distorted or unhelpful anxious thinking, because thoughts influence feelings and actions. Exposure therapy helps people tolerate and calm anxiety by gradually exposing a person to feared situations or objects under guidance from a therapist.
  • Medicines, such as short-acting drugs called benzodiazepines, which are taken as needed when anxiety spikes. Low doses of some antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors , help relieve anxiety when taken daily.

Often, a combination of approaches is best. Relieving anxiety with medicine while using CBT or exposure therapy to strengthen coping skills and help retrain the brain can do much to make anxiety manageable.

About the Author

Francesca Coltrera, Editor, Harvard Health Blog

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Signs You Should Talk With Your Doctor About Anxiety

If youre concerned that you have issues with anxiety, take a moment to breathe. Know that theres nothing inherently wrong with you, and youre not alone.

Almost everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in life, whether its from public speaking, test-taking or even driving in traffic. Feelings of anxiety are common in stressful situations, but theyre usually temporary and resolve quickly.

Anxiety disorders are different. You may have an anxiety disorder if feelings of intense fear or worry continue in situations that arent anxiety-inducing. If that sounds like you, again, dont be alarmed. More than 40 million American adults face anxiety disorders, and theyre highly treatable conditions.

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OCD is a serious mental illness that can become debilitating if left untreated. It is characterized by high levels of fear, anxiety, and emotional distress. In severe cases of OCD, the disorder can prevent the individual from functioning in daily life, interfere with relationships and responsibilities, and significantly impact quality of life.

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The Link Between Anxiety Symptoms And Depression

Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression at some point. Anxiety and depression are believed to stem from the same biological vulnerability, which may explain why they so often go hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse , it’s important to seek treatment for both conditions.

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If no other medical condition is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These are mental health professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat conditions including GAD. Treatment for GAD most often includes a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. And your daily habits can make a difference.

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Whats The Difference Between Depression And Anxiety

Anxiety and depression are distinct mental health disorders. Each has its own set of symptoms.

For example, someone with anxiety may experience excessive fear or worry, while someone with depression may experience persistent feelings of hopelessness.

However, they are often interconnected. Someone with depression can experience anxiety symptoms as part of their mood disorder, and someone with a persistent anxiety disorder can develop depression over time.

The Most Common Anxiety Disorders Include:

  • Specific phobias Phobias could be related to animals, like spiders, cats or dogs the natural environment, such as heights, storms or being in water blood injection injury, which is a fear of needles or invasive medical procedures or locations, like airplanes, elevators or enclosed places.
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • This is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort.

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What Does It Mean To Have An Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed by a mental health professional on the basis of specific criteria. These criteria have been established by the American Psychiatric Association in general, to qualify as disordered, a personâs anxiety or fear must be age inappropriate, out of proportion to the situation, and interfere with the ability to go about daily life.

The other key difference is that the anxiety lasts for a long time, even when the situation or problem has been resolved, Dr. Gundle explains.

For someone with an anxiety disorder, the worrying may feel impossible to control or manage and may lead the person to avoid other people, situations, or things that they believe will trigger anxiety symptoms, Gundle says.

For instance, a person may have an anxiety disorder if they experience significant distress or fear about an unrealistic scenario that likely will never happen, Gundle explains. Or a person who has a fear of heights and feels anxious driving over bridges may have an anxiety disorder if they are no longer able to cross bridges at all.

Anxiety among people with a disorder can come up unexpectedly and seemingly without reason. People with an anxiety disorder feel worry and fear constantly. The feelings of distress can be crippling, Gundle says.

According to the APA, specific types of anxiety disorders include:

Worry Vs Anxiety: Understanding The Difference

Physical Signs of Anxiety Infographic

Everyone feels worried from time to time. Worry is part of everyday life and, in the right circumstances, can be a powerful motivator. But an anxiety disorder causes excessive worry that interferes with your daily life. For example, people with social anxiety disorder may avoid work or school. People with panic disorder might stay away from situations that trigger their attacks.

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Recognizing Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

  • 1Identify emotional symptoms. People with anxiety often experience excessive fear and worry that they cant control. These feelings of fear and worry can lead to different behaviors. Some other emotional symptoms include:XTrustworthy SourceAmerican Academy of Family PhysiciansOrganization devoted to improving the health of patients, families, and communitiesGo to source
  • Feeling irritable and restless
  • Expecting the worst to happen
  • Loss of concentration, mind going blank
  • 2Recognize physical symptoms. Along with emotional symptoms, anxiety often involves some physical symptoms. Many people with anxiety disorder experience certain physical symptoms on a daily or almost daily basis. These symptoms may include:XTrustworthy SourceHelpGuideNonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources.Go to source
  • Easily fatigued
  • Disrupted sleep
  • 3Observe behavioral symptoms. Anxiety can make you behave in different ways. You might avoid certain situations due to the anxiety they can bring.XResearch source This can include work, home, school, or social situations. This kind of avoidance can get in the way of living a normal life.
  • You may find yourself purposefully avoiding social situations, such as parties or outings with your friends.
  • This kind of feedback can be helpful if you lack awareness to when you feel anxiety or what situations bring on your anxiety.
  • Developing Healthy Coping Strategies

    In addition to seeking professional treatment, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggest various strategies that can help an individual cope when they are feeling anxious:

    • Eat regular, nutritious meals

    • Aim to get daily physical activity

    • Prioritize getting enough sleep

    • Engage in calming activities

    • Practice deep breathing or meditation techniques

    • Talk about how you are feeling with others

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    When Should I Go To The Emergency Room For An Anxiety Disorder

    Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can resemble symptoms of a heart attack or another health emergency. If youre experiencing an anxiety attack for the first time, or youre concerned in any way about your health, call 911 or head to the nearest ER. A healthcare provider will check you for serious or life-threatening conditions.

    If youre having an anxiety attack and unsure whether you should head to an ER or not, its better to go. Healthcare professionals can make sure youre OK and give you any necessary treatment.

    Does Treatment For Anxiety Work

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    Research literature is abundantly clear that anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health disorders when the individual follows through on treatment suggestions. Generally, treatment for anxiety consists of therapy, medication, or both.

    The best available evidence indicates that combining therapy with medication is the best way to treat anxiety, with or without other mental health conditions.

    • Therapy can give you the structure and support to help get through difficult issues, including space to reflect, process challenges, and build skills.
    • Medication can help make the most acutely problematic parts of anxiety feel more manageable.

    Another thing to note is that its often the case that anxiety symptoms overlap with symptoms from other conditions. In fact, it is estimated that 60% of people with anxiety also suffer from depression, and vice versa.

    Because of this, mental health providers will often treat clusters of symptoms. According to Brightside Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mimi Winsberg:

    Distinguishing depression from anxiety can be difficult, and it is not uncommon for them to coexist in the same individual at the same time. There is some overlay in symptoms between the two diagnostic entities, and prolonged anxiety or stress can lead to a sense of helplessness and then despair. Additionally, depression can present with anxious features. In these cases, it is important for the provider to try to understand which came first .

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    Common Signs Of Depression

    Risk factors are just that. Genetic predispositions or having a medical condition doesn’t mean you’ll experience depression. Quite honestly, it can be hard to differentiate sadness from something more serious. Use these signs and symptoms to help you identify if you may have depression. Note that symptoms will vary and can range from mild to severe. Everyone’s experience will differ, there is no one-size-fits-all definition for how depression looks. However, general themes emerge.

    Here are the common signs and symptoms of depression:

    • Atypical levels of irritability or anger for you
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
    • Feelings of sadness or consistent low mood
    • Sleep troubles — both insomnia and sleeping too much
    • Feelings of fatigue or having no energy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

    To be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks and impede your ability to function in your daily life. According to the DSM-5, a major depressive disorder diagnosis comes after five of the nine main clinical symptoms of depression are experienced. The duration of symptoms will vary, from a few weeks, months to even years.

    What To Do About Anxiety In The Moment

    When you notice panic or overwhelming worry intensifying, take the deepest breath you can. Try to find a quiet, secure place where you can breathe steadily. Try a pattern where you inhale for a count of four, hold your breath until you count seven, then exhale for a count of eight. Repeat this several times. Steady breathing can help calm both your mind and body.

    If youâre able to, move. Complete a set of stretches or take a quick walk. This will help burn off some of the energy related to anxiety. You can also splash your face with cold water.

    As you move, reassure yourself. You can remind yourself that itâs normal to react to stress and to challenging things with nervousness. You can also âcheck the situationâ by asking yourself:

    • What proof do I have that something will go wrong?
    • 1-100, how likely is it something bad will happen?
    • In the worst case scenario, what will I do?

    To help, you can journal about any triggers or patterns you noticed that were related to anxiety or panic. These might help, too:

    • List things that make you feel happier, more positive, or more grateful. Positive emotions can be powerful
    • Get your heart rate up with 30 minutes of IBS-friendly exercise, since regular exercise helps manage anxiety
    • Skip sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and processed carbs when you can pick fermented foods and other foods that promote a good mood
    • Use a lavender or lemongrass diffuser or candle

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    What Kind Of Anxiety Disorder Do You Have

    As with every health issue, an accurate diagnosis is essential. A few common anxiety disorders include:

    • Generalized anxiety disorder: A pattern of excessive worry about a variety of issues on most days for at least six months, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, a hammering heart, or dizziness.
    • Social anxiety disorder: Feeling significant anxiety in social situations or when called on to perform in front of others, such as in public speaking.
    • Phobias: A particular animal, insect, object, or situation causes substantial anxiety.
    • Panic disorder: Panic attacks are sudden, intense episodes of heart-banging fear, breathlessness, and dread. Its the feeling youd have if you just missed being hit by a Mack truck but for people with panic disorder there is no Mack truck, says Dr. Beresin.

    What Your Doctor Looks For

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    When you talk with your doctor, theyll assess your physical health. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be easily confused with underlying medical conditions.

    Your doctor may examine and interview you for some illnesses that often imitate, or trigger the onset of, anxiety disorders, like:

    • Central nervous system damage
    • Low blood sugar

    If your doctor determines that your anxiety isnt linked to drug use or a physical medical condition, they can refer you to a mental health professional who can diagnose you appropriately.

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    When To See A Healthcare Provider

    Anxiety that interferes with your everyday functioning and overall well-being can be distressing. It can impact your social, emotional, and physical health and affect your work and relationships.

    If you have anxiety symptoms, consider visiting a healthcare provider. Also consider seeking help if you experience any complications that are associated with the disorder, such as gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, depression, thoughts of suicide, or alcohol abuse.

    What Are The Causes And Risk Factors For Gad

    Experts donât know the exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder. Several things — including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental stresses — appear to contribute to its development.

    • Genetics. Some research suggests that family history plays a part in making it more likely that a person will have GAD. This means that the tendency to develop GAD may be passed on in families. But no anxiety genes have been identified, and families may also pass down the tendency through lifestyle or environment.
    • Brain chemistry. This is complex. GAD has been linked to problems with certain nerve cell pathways that connect particular brain regions involved in thinking and emotion. These nerve cell connections depend on chemicals called neurotransmitters that send information from one nerve cell to the next. If the pathways that connect particular brain regions donât work well, problems related to mood or anxiety may result. Medicines, psychotherapies, or other treatments that are thought to work on these neurotransmitters may improve the signaling between circuits and help to improve symptoms related to anxiety or depression.
    • Environmental factors. Trauma and stressful events such as abuse, the death of a loved one, divorce, and changing jobs or schools may contribute to GAD. The condition can also worsen when stress feels out of hand. The use of and withdrawal from addictive substances can also worsen anxiety.

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    Phobias And Irrational Fears

    A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals , fear of flying, and fear of needles. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the object of your fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.

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