What are anxiety disorders?

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and various phobia-related disorders (SAMHSA).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Characterized by excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of events or activities (e.g., work or school performance) that occurs more days than not, for at least 6 months. People with generalized anxiety disorder find it difficult to control their worry, which may cause impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning (NIMH).

GAD affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.

What causes GAD?

The symptoms of GAD comes from a complex interaction between biology and environment. Some factors may include genetics, brain function and chemistry, individual personality, development, and one’s perception of threats.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of GAD include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Being irritable
  • Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep

Click here for information on how GAD is treated


Understanding GAD

Tips to manage anxiety & stress                                  Myths and realities

ADAA GAD Brochure                                                    NIH GAD Brochure

Panic Disorder

An anxiety disorder characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress. These episodes occur “out of the blue,” not in conjunction with a known fear or stressor (NIMH).

PD affects 6 million adults or 2.7% of the U.S. population.

What causes Panic Disorder?

It is not fully known what causes Panic Disorder, but factors such as genetics, trauma, major stress, having a disposition that is more prone to negative feelings, and changes in brain function play a part.

Signs and Symptoms

People with panic disorder have frequent and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or sense of losing control even when there is no clear danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder.

During a panic attack, a person may experience:

  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or tingling
  • Chest pain
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

People with panic disorder often worry about when the next attack will happen and actively try to prevent future attacks by avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with panic attacks. Panic attacks can occur as frequently as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year.

Click here for more information about diagnosing and treatment


Understanding Panic Disorder

Coping with panic attacks video            4 Tips for managing your panic video

ADAA Panic Disorder Brochure                          NIH Panic Disorder Brochure

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder (formerly social phobia) is characterized by persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating (NIMH).

An estimated 12.1% of U.S. adults experience social anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

Click here for a video explaining Social Anxiety Disorder

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Risk for social anxiety disorder may run in families, but no one knows for sure why some family members have it while others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety and that genetics influences how these areas function. By studying how the brain and body interact in people with social anxiety disorder, researchers may be able to create more targeted treatments. In addition, researchers are looking at the ways stress and environmental factors play a role in the disorder.

Click here for a video about the causes of Social Anxiety Disorder

Signs and Symptoms

People with social anxiety disorder may experience:

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Stomachaches
  • Rigid body posture or speaking with an overly soft voice
  • Difficulty making eye contact or being around people they don’t know
  • Feelings of self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively

Click here for a video explain the symptoms of social anxiety

Click her for more information about diagnosing and treatment


Social Anxiety Worksheets                                  Social Anxiety Self help videos

ADAA SAD Brochure                                                     NIMH SAD Booklet

Phobia Related Disorders

phobia is an intense fear of—or aversion to—specific objects or situations. Although it can be realistic to be anxious in some circumstances, the fear people with phobias feel is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the situation or object (NIMH).

An estimated 12.5% of U.S. adults experience specific phobia at some time in their lives.

What causes Phobias?

It’s not fully known what are the causes of specific phobias. Factors such as negative experiences (e.g having a panic attack related to a situation or an object), genetics, learned behavior, and brain function.

Signs and Symptoms

People with phobias try to avoid what makes them afraid. If they cannot, they may experience:

  • A strong desire to get away, immediate and intense fear, anxiety, and panic
  • Rapid heartbeat, sweating, tight chest, trembling, and shortness of breath
  • Being aware that fears are irrational but feeling powerless
  • Intense avoidance of an object or situation
  • In children: tantrums, clinging to guardian, and crying

Click here for more information on diagnosing and treatment


ADAA resources for phobias