What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear or trepidation. It is normal to worry about things that affect everyday life. As part of your body’s natural defense system, healthy anxiety can help protect you by causing you to respond quickly to a dangerous situation, such as avoiding a car accident, or by helping you focus under stressful situations when you need to succeed, such as passing an exam. Mild, moderate or occasional, short-term severe anxiety is a normal reaction to stressors in daily life.

Anxiety can help people to recognize and more effectively deal with stressful situations, such as starting a new job or meeting a deadline at work. Anxiety may also occur when there isn’t a clear physical threat, such as when a child is afraid of a monster in the closet.

Feelings of anxiety can range from mild uneasiness to full-blown panic attack. Anxiety becomes a problem when the levels of anxiety are so extreme, recurring or continuous that they interfere with one’s ability to function effectively in everyday life. This level of anxiety may be caused by or can develop into an anxiety disorder.

Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Agoraphobia is characterized by anxiety that occurs when a person is in open spaces or public places.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder manifests as excessive worry and anxiety that is out of proportion to the actual situation.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a disorder in which people try to reduce their anxieties through excessive ritual and repeated behaviors.

  • Panic disorder is marked by an extreme and crippling sense of anxiety and panic.

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder occurs after a traumatizing event and is characterized by flashbacks of the terrifying event.

  • Social anxiety disorder is a persistent fear of public social situations.

The good news is that anxiety is treatable. With help, you can develop skills to help you cope with anxiety or overcome fears.  Certain activities can help reduce stress and relieve tension so that you can feel more relaxed. Medications can treat severe and chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders often occur along with depression or bipolar disorder, two potentially serious mental health conditions. In some cases, these disorders can be severe enough that a person can become suicidal or a danger to himself or herself or others. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with or know, are thinking or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself or another person.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

A key characteristic of an anxiety disorder is that anxiety becomes so extreme that instead of helping a person to deal with stress, it negatively impacts the ability to cope and function in everyday life.... Read more about anxietysymptoms

CAUSES

What causes anxiety?

The sensation of anxiety is the result of the body’s reaction to stress, called the fright, fight or flight response. This natural defense reaction developed in early human evolution as a means to increase alertness and readiness to react to dangerous stressors, such as the threat of a man-eating predator.... Read more about anxietycauses

TREATMENTS

How is anxiety treated?

The overall treatment goal for people living with excessive anxiety or anxiety disorders is to feel better and live normal, functional and productive lives. The first step to addressing excessive anxiety or an anxiety disorder is to diagnose and treat any underlying medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism or hypoxia, which can cause anxiety.... Read more about anxietytreatments

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Mar 1, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mental Health and Behavior, Anxiety