When is Anxiety Considered a Disorder?

Anxiety is a normal aspect of life. Occasional anxiety can be experienced by many people in various situations. Whether it be prior to a job interview, a big test coming up, or awaiting medical test results, it is normal to feel a bit uneasy in those situations. However, experiencing persistent, overwhelming, or anxiety attacks can be a sign of a more complicated condition. Anxiety disorders can be disabling and interfere with your daily life.

Anxiety disorders can be serious conditions that debilitate a lot of people – in some cases, anxiety disorders are just as severe as some health conditions like heart disease or autoimmune disorders. In the United States, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness.

Is Anxiety a Disorder?

“Anxiety disorder” is a phrase referring to a host of psychiatric conditions people may suffer from. These mental health conditions include extreme bouts of fear and worry, panic attacks, extreme social anxiety, separation anxiety, and various fears and phobias.

While anxiety is a fairly normal and human experience (which at times can be beneficial), an anxiety disorder is deeper than that. Anxiety itself is not a disorder, however, anxiety can become problematic when it becomes a source of dread or influences negative reactions to daily life. This can be characterized by irrational thoughts and behaviors that may keep you from functioning normally. These can include: avoidance behaviors, concentration issues, or even severe physical symptoms that may lead to illness or a weakened health. At times, these symptoms can be so severe that they interfere with interactions with your family, friends, work, or social obligations.

Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that impact your life greatly. Some people may avoid normal daily activities as their disorder progresses while others may fear leaving their home entirely. Many people admit that their struggles are irrational, but have a difficult time overcoming the various thoughts and feelings that they have become trapped in. The good news is, anxiety disorders are treatable! If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, it is important that you seek help.

Below are a few indicators that can help you distinguish between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder:

Normal Anxiety:

  • Stems from uncomfortable situations or issues
  • Only lasts as long as the current situation
  • Is relative to the situation
  • Has a realistic response and approach to solving the issue

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:

  • Unexpected bouts of worry or fear
  • Unnatural responses to the discomfort: intense, physical reactions, or nausea
  • Irrational fear of the unknown or of situations that may never occur
  • Continued or prolonged feelings of fear or worry even if the situation as resolved
  • Symptoms become nearly impossible to manage or control
  • People with anxiety may attempt to avoid certain situations or things that cause these adverse feelings

An easier way to explain this would be by giving an example. Many people have the fear of heights or of being in high places. A normal reaction to this may be discomfort or a mild negative response when flying or walking across a bridge. Yet, in order to get to their destination, they still have to fly in the plane or walk across the bridge. However, in the same situation, people with anxiety disorders might never be able to walk across the bridge or board a plane – even if it may jeopardize their occupation.

At What Point is Anxiety Considered a Problem?

Anxiety is considered a problem when physical symptoms (i.e. shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, or fainting spells),  become severe or a recurrent response to various situations. Other responses may include: distorted thoughts, panic attacks, excessive worry, fear of seemingly normal situations, changes in behavior, dangerous or self-harmful acts, and changes in the way they interact in close relationships. These are signs of severe mental health conditions and are key indicators of different types of anxiety disorders.

An example of an anxiety disorder is  social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder can be defined as: “A chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety. For people with [this condition], everyday social interactions cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness, and embarrassment.” Symptoms can range from fear of leaving the house due to an excess fear of discourse or the inability to interact with others due to the fear of embarrassment.

List of Anxiety Disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder is an overwhelming sense or worry or fear without cause or trigger
  • Panic disorder: Can be a sudden, uncontrollable surge of fear that causes a panic attack. During an attack, physical symptoms can range from: excessive sweating, chest pain, heart palpitations, rapid breathing, or hyperventilation. This can feel like you are having a heart attack or suffocating.
  • Specific phobias: Fears that are irrational when concerning various objects or places: heights, spiders, small spaces, among other things are generally related to specific phobias. This fear is inappropriate given the object in question and may cause someone to react violently when confronted with their fear.
  • Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia is the fear of being unable to escape a certain place or situation – especially if you fear an emergency. This can occur while in a plane, bus, or even while standing in line in a crowded place.
  • Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is common in many children and adolescents. They may be afraid of being alone or being without their parents. However, many adults can suffer from separation anxiety as well. You may feel that something bad may happen to your loved one as soon as they leave your site or if you are unable to communicate with them.
  • Selective mutism. This type of anxiety is more common in younger children. It is a form of anxiety where you may be comfortable talking with your friends and family, but are unable to communicate when in a different social setting.
  • Medication-induced anxiety disorder: Withdrawal or heavy use of certain medications or illegal substances can lead to bouts of anxiety and depression.

How Do You Know if You Have an Anxiety Disorder?

If you are suffering from excessive bouts of anxiety, medical or mental health related issues due to being anxious, or begin experiencing serious health effects due to uncontrollable anxiety, you are most likely suffering from an anxiety disorder. In some cases, anxiety has been attributed to health conditions like: heart disease, stomach ulcers or digestive issues, and physical pain. It is best to consult with your doctor or a medical professional in order to discuss the appropriate treatment option for you.

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