Anxiety—like many things—is a normal part of everyday life. It’s common to feel anxious, nervous, or on edge from time to time, especially when facing uncomfortable or stressful situations. Anxiety is what inspires us to study harder and practice new skills.

However, anxiety disorders occur when you feel frightened, distressed, and uneasy all the time. Left unaddressed and untreated, anxiety disorders can get worse over time, interfering with work, relationships, and overall quality of life.

In the United States, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 19% of U.S. adults experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, and an estimated 31% will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Symptoms common to most anxiety disorders include:

  • Feeling restless and unable to focus or concentrate
  • Feeling tired, irritable, short-tempered
  • Unable to sleep or get restorative sleep
  • Frequent and unexplained headaches, muscle aches, or stomachaches

Researchers continue to study the causes of anxiety disorders. Mental Health America explains that anxiety disorders may have a biological basis and run in families, much like allergies or diabetes. Other risk factors besides genetics include brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Anxiety disorders can also be related to trauma, where the anxiety serves as a protective measure even though the danger is gone.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders. These are the most common:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves chronic, exaggerated worry about routine events and activities. It can persist for months if not years.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts or rituals that seem impossible to control.
  • Panic disorder is characterized by frequent and unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning and often involve physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, and abdominal discomfort.
  • Specific phobias are an extreme and irrational fear of things or situations that pose no actual or immediate danger. Examples include a fear of flying, heights, blood, spiders, or certain animals, such as dogs or snakes.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder often involves recurring or persistent nightmares, flashbacks, numb emotions, and other mental health concerns stemming from a traumatic event.
  • Social anxiety disorder occurs when people avoid social situations because they worry about feeling judged, embarrassed, humiliated, or scrutinized by others.

Tips for addressing anxiety

When addressing anxiety, it’s helpful to remember the mind-body connection, and how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions influence your physical health—and vice versa. You can make great strides in managing anxiety by integrating healthy eating, mindfulness, yoga, and physical activity into your daily life. Counseling, support groups, and medications also help.

If you would like additional support and guidance, reach out to your Assistance Program. We are here to help. Services are free, confidential, and available to you and your family members. You can access them 24/7 by visiting Member Support.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health and Mental Health America