The word "anxiety" is often associated with feelings of nervousness that arise because of challenging or potentially life-changing events. Experiencing these emotions is considered normal, since everyone has their own burdens to bear and their own reactions to these situations.
However, if these feelings persist even after the event is over, or if they impair a person's ability to sleep or function,1 this could be a sign of a potentially devastating condition. Clearly, there is more to anxiety than just having a nervous and apprehensive state of mind.
Clearing the Air on the True Definition of Anxiety
The term "anxiety" refers to a group of conditions that mainly trigger feelings of nervousness, fear or apprehension in a patient. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses characterized by feelings that are "out of proportion" to what is expected of a certain situation and affect how people feel and behave.
These can cause problems in daily function and routine, compared to mild anxiety with causes that may be unclear.2 These physical and emotional symptoms are some of the most common hallmarks of anxiety disorder:3,4
• Feelings of apprehension, panic or fear
• Restlessness and trouble concentrating
• Shortness of breath
• Headaches, stomachaches5 or dizziness
Anxiety can occur because of a variety of factors, such as:6,7
Stress from personal relationships, marriage, friendships or divorce8
Stress from work or school
Stress due to finances
Stress because of a natural disaster
Trauma from events like abuse, victimization or the death of a loved one
Genetics,9,10 although more studies have to be done to confirm if anxiety is hereditary
Anxiety Can Be Further Divided Into Different Disorders
Anyone of any age or gender can be affected with an anxiety disorder. The most prevalent types include:11
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety Disorders Should Be Taken Seriously
Although there's now more research on anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses compared to recent years, the stigma that people with these mental illnesses have to face is still disheartening.
According to the Mental Health Foundation of the U.K., those affected with mental illnesses are treated as violent and dangerous. But the reality is people with these disorders are actually more prone to being attacked by someone else or harming themselves. The media doesn't help either, and it tends to frame people with mental illnesses as dangerous criminals or very incapacitated individuals that cannot enjoy normal lives.12
People who have been diagnosed with anxiety may lose friendships,13 experience isolation from activities, have difficulties in getting and retaining a job, or experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.14 Apart from these negative impacts on their daily lives, people with anxiety disorders are also more prone to:15,16
Depression — Another type of mental illness, depression may occur alongside an anxiety disorder.
Take note that anxiety and depression are different because of the possible triggers of each condition, as well as the emotional and behavioral indicators that develop in patients.
However, some people may notice that indicators of depression may appear similar to those of anxiety disorders.17
Suicide — As highlighted in a 2010 Depression and Anxiety article, anxiety may increase a person's risk of contemplating suicide.
Research authors revealed that in people who reportedly attempted suicide, 70 percent of them had an anxiety disorder.18
People with OCD or social phobias are more prone to commiting suicide,19 and the probability of having suicidal thoughts may increase if anxiety occurs along with depression.20
Substance abuse —21 Abuse of alcohol, drugs22 and nicotine23 may arise among anxiety disorder patients.
Those who have either seasonal affective disorder (SAD), panic disorder or social phobia are most likely to experience alcohol and/or drug abuse.
Smoking24 and substance abuse are common among people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).25
Physical illness — Patients with anxiety may experience chronic pain or headaches26 that may lead to heart disease, chronic respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal diseases.
In some cases, somatic symptom disorder may develop among people with anxiety, triggering pain, nausea, weakness or dizziness, with no physical cause being attributed to the condition.27
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — ADHD and anxiety are actually linked, as the usual signs of ADHD are very intrusive and can make the patient's life stressful.
The Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA) of America highlights that nearly half of adults with ADHD are experiencing some form of anxiety disorder too.
Some of the most common ADHD symptoms that appear alongside an anxiety disorder are similar to each other,28 and may lead to a reduced ability to function properly.29
Bipolar disorder — There may be instances wherein anxiety can occur alongside bipolar disorder.
This mental health problem is characterized by extreme changes in a person's mood, energy or ability to perform tasks that may last for days or weeks, or even longer. Anxiety may exacerbate bipolar disorder.30
Eating disorders — Bulimia, anorexia or EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified) may develop among people with anxiety, especially adolescent or young adult patients.31