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What Are Anxiety Disorders?

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

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January 20, 2021 Read Time - 7 minutes

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

What are anxiety disorders? There is actually not one singular anxiety disorder; rather, there are many types of anxiety disorders. This article will define anxiety and then provide an overview of different anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders include excessive fear and anxiety, and related behavioral problems that happen as a result. Fear and anxiety are not the same. Anxiety is the anticipation of a future threat, while fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threats

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), anxiety is defined as excessive worry occurring more days than not, for at least 6 months. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may find it difficult to control the worry.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) code classifies anxiety disorder in terms of excessive, uncontrollable, and often irrational worry, which includes apprehensive expectations about events or activities. The excessive worry often interferes with daily functioning.

Keep reading to find out more about different types of anxiety disorders, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment options, including therapy and medication.

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Most Common Types of Anxiety Disorders

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), most people develop symptoms of anxiety before age 21. Anxiety can be inherited, learned or both. Unresolved trauma can result in anxiety disorders and symptoms.

The DSM-5 classifies several types of anxiety disorders. Types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) 
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (previously called social phobia)
  • Separation anxiety
  • Selective mutism
  • Specific phobias (such as agoraphobia or arachnophobia)
  • Medication or substance-induced anxiety

Having an anxiety disorder is more than just being stressed; an anxiety disorder exceeds that. If you think you may be suffering from anxiety, do not wait for your symptoms to get better on their own.

Symptoms Associated with Anxiety Disorders

Although excessive and persistent worrying is widely regarded as the hallmark feature of anxiety disorders, they include many other symptoms.

Symptoms associated with the anxiety disorders mentioned above include:

  • Constantly scanning the environment for cues of a threat
  • Develop worry in an attempt to solve problems
  • Use worry to avoid the fear response
  • Have intolerance to uncertainty or ambiguity
  • Worry about the uncontrollable worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Stumbling over words
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Chronic feelings of worry that have no direct cause or clear reason
  • Experience unexpected panic attacks on a regular basis
  • Fear of leaving home or parting from certain individuals
  • An irrational fear of a specific object or situation

You may have somatic symptoms of anxiety, which include: 

  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems such as irritable bowels and nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nervous tics
  • Muscle tension
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)

Causes of an Anxiety Disorder

Factors that can contribute to an anxiety disorder include medical causes, environmental factors, or inherited traits. A range of variables and events can intersect and combine that can result in an anxiety disorder. Specific causes for anxiety disorders are not fully understood. Many factors contribute to anxiety disorders, such as biological, neuropsychological, and developmental causes, as well as personality traits and cognitive origins of excessive worry.

Diagnosing an Anxiety Disorder

The diagnosis of anxiety disorders is determined by a physician and the use of the DSM criteria. Most anxiety disorders have the presence of persistent and excessive anxiety, with a combination of various psychological and somatic symptoms.

People are diagnosed with anxiety disorders if they have:

  • Excessive anxiety or worry occurring more days than not (for at least 6 months)
  • Anxiety occurrences that affect daily life events or activities (such as work or school)
  • Difficulty controlling their worry
  • Several physical symptoms of anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. Often, the worries focus on everyday matters, such as job responsibilities or family health, or minor matters, such as chores or appointments. 

GAD is considered to be a potentially chronic illness, fluctuating in symptom severity over time. The essential feature of diagnostic criteria for GAD in the World Health Organization’s ICD-10 is “free-floating” anxiety, with prominent tension, worry, and feelings of apprehension about everyday events and problems.

Diagnosis additionally requires the presence of at least four more features from a list of 22 symptoms relating to physical symptoms, which have to be present for most days over the course of 6 months.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by a marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others and may feel judged, embarrassed, or humiliated. This can include:

  • Having a conversation
  • Meeting unfamiliar people
  • Being observed eating or drinking
  • Giving a speech

The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation. Therefore, social situations are often avoided or endured with intense fear. 

Forms of Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Typically, most anxiety disorders are treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Several categories of medications are used to treat anxiety disorders. Some medications used to treat anxiety disorders include anti-depressants, anxiolytics, and beta blockers.

Other treatments for anxiety disorder include therapy. There are many forms of therapy, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Complementary Therapies
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis

Many people with anxiety disorders will seek therapy as a starting point for treatment.

Therapy for Anxiety Disorders

Therapists are licensed professionals that help people manage and overcome problems with themselves, family members, and other relationships. Therapists encourage patients to discuss their emotions and experiences, help guide patient’s decisions, give tools to help manage mental disorders, refer patients to support groups, and help patients adjust their reactions to life and how to handle adversity. 

The first line of treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment. Clinical trials support the use of CBT, which is considered the golden standard of therapy treatment for anxiety disorders.

In CBT, therapists help the patient identify and correct distorted, maladaptive beliefs by determining how the patient feels, reacts, and perceives situations. CBT can help train you to identify and challenge negative thoughts while replacing them with realistic ones.

Medications for Anxiety Disorders

According to the American Psychiatric Association, medication therapy is used as a treatment option for anxiety disorders. These medications are antidepressants and are often used to treat both depression and anxiety. Antidepressant medications such as SSRIs or SNRIs are used as the first-line medical treatment for anxiety disorders.

Anti-anxiety medications are also prescribed in the United States as complementary therapies to antidepressants. Some prescription anxiety medications have the potential for abuse and therefore are classified as controlled substances. These medications are often prescribed for those with panic disorder or PTSD.

Other types of medications such as beta blockers are sometimes used as an approved “off-label” treatment of anxiety symptoms. Anxiety medications are often used in combination with therapy to treat anxiety disorders more effectively. Prescription medications can reduce anxiety symptoms so that patients can participate in therapy more successfully.

The most common medications for anxiety disorders include:

  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Buspar
  • Elavil
  • Trazadone
  • Cymbalta
  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Serax
  • Propranolol

There are many types of medications that can be prescribed to treat anxiety. Talk with your doctor about your anxiety symptoms.

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.


Can Anxiety Disorders Be Cured?

Anxiety disorders are typically long-lasting, though they can be managed with medication and therapy. Getting help for your anxiety can come from a primary care physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist.

Anxiety is a common condition that can get worse over time, if not treated. Do not wait for your anxiety to get better on its own. If you have symptoms of anxiety that is affecting your daily life, make an appointment with PlushCare to speak with a doctor today. 

Read More About Anxiety Disorders


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, VA 2013.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Managing Stress and Anxiety. Accessed December 20, 2020.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health Disorders: Anxiety Disorders. Accessed on December 20, 2020. What Are Anxiety Disorders. Accessed December 20, 2020.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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