Anxiety Disorder: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

By Danielle Boland

It’s normal for people to feel anxious or nervous before certain life events, like a job interview or preparing for a big test in school. However, anxiety that interferes with daily life and does not go away can be an anxiety disorder. To find out whether you or someone you love is suffering from an anxiety disorder, you need to know what symptoms can occur. It’s also important to understand the different ways you can get treatment for your anxiety. 

What Is Anxiety?

A person can feel anxious for many different reasons. Anxiety is often our body’s way of handling stressful situations, whether they’re real or perceived. Normal anxiety occurs based on a specific problem, ends when the situation ends and is a realistic response to a stressful situation or problem. When anxiety grows unmanageable, however, it can become an anxiety disorder. 

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a mental illness that impacts daily life and can cause people to avoid situations in their lives to avoid more anxiety. Someone may have an anxiety disorder when their fear and worry are constant and interfere with their ability to perform at work, school and in relationships. When someone experiences an anxiety disorder, their anxiety may happen with no explanation. They may also have a stronger reaction to something than seems necessary, feeling that the fear will not end. 

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health diagnosis in the United States:

  • It affects 40 million Americans over the age of 18.
  • Only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety get treatment.
  • Women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorder than men.
  • Those who suffer from anxiety often also suffer from depression.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There is a broad range of anxiety disorders, and some types are more common than others. Many people recognize OCD, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder as common types of anxiety, and they are typically more aware of these conditions. However, people are generally less aware of uncommon diagnoses like certain phobias, separation anxiety or situational anxiety. As a result, they may not know the symptoms or how they can be treated. 

DSM-5 Anxiety Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is a manual used to assess and diagnose mental disorders. It has descriptions, symptoms and other details about anxiety disorders. The DSM-5 helps medical professionals be consistent when treating patients. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorders

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common type of anxiety. Those who are diagnosed with GAD have consistent anxiety or worry that lasts for more than six months. The anxiety interferes with their day-to-day life and prevents them from functioning normally. In the United States, 3.1% of the population has been diagnosed with GAD.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder involves constant, unexpected panic attacks that leave a person paralyzed in fear. Physical symptoms like shortness of breath and heart palpitations often accompany a panic attack. Women are more likely to suffer from panic disorder, and approximately 6.3 million adults in the United States suffer from this condition. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD affects 7.7 million adults in the United States and is more likely to affect women than men. Traumatic events like sexual assault, war or repeated exposure to violence can cause someone to develop PTSD. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Someone who is diagnosed with OCD will exhibit repetitive, obsessive thoughts and strong urges to do certain actions, known as compulsions. Symptoms typically begin during adolescence, and men are more likely to have OCD than women. Around 1.2% of U.S. adults experience OCD each year.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) causes an intense fear of social situations. The biggest symptom of SAD is a fear of embarrassment based on their behavior in social situations. Often, people with social anxiety avoid social situations and may struggle in the workplace or at school. SAD impacts 15 million people in the United States, and it affects men and women equally. 

Other Types of Anxiety

Other subsets of anxiety are not as well-known as disorders like PTSD and OCD. However, they still share many of the same symptoms as general anxiety and cause interruption in day-to-day activity.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is not limited to children, as adults can also be diagnosed. People suffering from separation anxiety can have an extreme fear of being away from someone they are very attached to. This can include the fear that something bad will happen to oneself or a loved one when apart.

Specific Phobias

Someone with a specific phobia can have an intense anxiety about specific types of objects or situations. Phobias examples include the fear of:

  • Heights
  • Flying
  • Spiders
  • Needles
  • Blood
  • Darkness
  • Going outside

Medication, Drug or Alcohol Induced Anxiety

Substance-induced anxiety involves nervousness or panic caused by starting or stopping the use of a substance. Substances and medicines that can cause anxiety include:

  • Alcohol 
  • Illegal drugs, such as cocaine or LSD 
  • Decongestants 
  • Caffeine
  • Stimulants
  • Steroids
  • Certain asthma medication

What Causes Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is believed to occur based on three specific reasons:

  • Genetics
  • Biology
  • Environment 

The brain makes certain chemicals that help balance thoughts, feelings and emotions. When these chemicals are not in balance, it can cause anxiety. A family history of anxiety can also raise a person’s risk for developing an anxiety disorder later in life. Stressful or traumatic events in childhood can increase this risk as well.

Risk Factors for Anxiety

Common risk factors for anxiety disorder include: 

  • Gender
  • Family history
  • Substance abuse
  • Medical conditions
  • Stressful life events
  • Shyness as a child

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

If you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety disorder, the following symptoms may be experienced: 

  • Feeling on edge
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritation
  • Constant worry
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues 

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorder

Diagnosing anxiety disorder can be difficult, which is why it’s important to reach out to a qualified medical professional who can help you figure out what could be going on. Doctors use several tools to help diagnose anxiety disorder, including:

  • The DSM-5
  • Physical examination
  • Mental health evaluation
  • Lab tests

Anxiety Disorder Tests

There is not a specific test that can determine if someone has anxiety disorder. Diagnosis involves using physical tests to rule out a medical condition, reviewing symptoms and assessing the person’s condition to tell if they have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. However, there are self-guided questionnaires that you can take to see if you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorder. 

The Nobu app is a great tool to use if you think you may have an anxiety disorder. This free app has a wide range of resources to help you evaluate your symptoms and begin managing your anxiety. For an added fee, you can even connect with a licensed mental health professional and begin professional anxiety treatment.

Treating Anxiety Disorders

Since there are so many different types of anxiety that can be diagnosed, it takes a variety of treatment options to be able to address each one effectively. When someone is suffering from an anxiety disorder, there are a few options they can look into. 

Therapy for Anxiety Disorder

Psychotherapy can be an effective way to help treat anxiety disorder symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven method used to help those with anxiety reframe their thoughts, feelings and behaviors surrounding the situations that make them anxious. 

Anxiety Disorder Medication

Medication can be a useful tool for treating anxiety disorder when methods like therapy are not enough to help reduce symptoms. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are both used to help treat anxiety disorders. The most common medications used to treat anxiety are:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Celexa
  • Prozac
  • Zoloft

Lifestyle Changes

Making life changes can be a very helpful part of treating anxiety disorder symptoms. Meditation practices, yoga, regular exercise, mindfulness approaches and other stress-reduction techniques are all effective strategies for treating anxiety.

If you are struggling with anxiety or stress in your daily life, the free-to-use Nobu app can help relieve some of the burden you feel. Our resources can lift you through those moments of difficulty you may experience in day-to-day living and give you a more relaxed, mindful outlook on life. 

Nobu also provides a perfect supplement to professional treatment, helping you stay on track between therapy sessions and other appointments. For an additional fee, Nobu users can even receive anxiety treatment from licensed mental health professionals. Download the Nobu app today, and see for yourself the kinds of helpful changes it can create in your daily life.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum

Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.

Written by – Danielle Boland

Danielle is a licensed clinical social worker, currently living and practicing in central Connecticut. Danielle graduated from Columbia University in 2012 with a Masters of Social Work, and always had the goal of opening her own private practice. She specializes in women’s issues, maternal health and postpartum mental health. Danielle is passionate about empowering people of all ages and hopes to use her writing skills to provide more resources for those looking to improve their mental health… Read more.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.