Anxiety disorders

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Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. It’s your brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting you of potential danger ahead. However, anxiety disorders are different – they are a type of mental health condition.

What are anxiety disorders?

People with anxiety disorders typically display frequent intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. These go beyond the regular nervousness and slight fear one may feel from time to time. Anxiety disorders involve intense anxiety, fear and even panic, feelings so extreme that they interfere with the person’s daily activities.

A doctor may diagnose an anxiety disorder when:

  • The anxiety interferes with the patient’s ability to function.
  • The patient often overreacts to an emotional trigger.
  • The patient can’t control their response to situations.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
  • Specific phobias
  • Agoraphobia
  • Separation anxiety
  • Selective mutism
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder


Specific symptoms will depend on the type of anxiety disorder. Common symptoms include:

  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Sleep problems
  • Not being able to stay calm and still
  • Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingling hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Tense muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Rumination
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Obsessively avoiding feared objects or places

Causes and risk factors

Unfortunately, researchers don’t fully understand exactly what brings on anxiety disorders. A complex mix of factors are at play.

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Negative life events and childhood trauma
  • Drug withdrawal or substance misuse
  • Medical conditions (e.g. heart, lung or thyroid issues)
  • History of other mental health disorders
  • Being shy as a child and low self-esteem


Like any health issue, anxiety disorders require treatment. It’s not a matter of self-discipline or attitude – you can’t will it away.

If you have symptoms, see a doctor. No lab tests can specifically diagnose anxiety disorders, but a lot of progress has been made in recent years in treating mental health conditions. Your doctor should be able to tailor a treatment plan that works for you. It may combine medication (anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or beta-blockers) and psychotherapy (CBT or exposure therapy).

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