Feelings of anxiety are a natural part of life. People feel anxiety over both serious and trivial things, often inexplicably, and stress can cause or exacerbate these feelings. For some people, however, anxiety is a consistent part of their lives, affecting their ability to function day-to-day, as well as their mood and relationship. These people may have a category of mental health condition called anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a nervous disorder that causes frequent and repetitive feelings of worry, apprehension, and fear. People experience anxiety differently, and it is separate from the occasional worries that affect the general population. A person can feel anxious and not have anxiety. In the context of this article, anxiety is a treatable mental illness.
Ancient Latin and Greek philosophers identified people we would now diagnose with anxiety disorder as being separate from those experiencing simple sadness; they tried to offer practical solutions, such as focusing on the present. Later, Epicurean philosophers built on these ideas and offered similar advice. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the evolution of the term as an illness, and a French physician named Joseph Lévy-Valensi coined the term “anxiété” in the early 20th century. In the later part of the 20th century, the definition was clarified and the illness became better documented when The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was first published.
The symptoms of anxiety include panic attacks, hyperventilation, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and feelings of panic or dread. There are also more subtle symptoms, such as overthinking, restlessness, and lethargy. Some people with anxiety have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, and maintaining a regular sleeping pattern, which can give way to insomnia.
One form of anxiety is panic disorder, which is characterized by unexpected, sudden panic attacks. While some people with general anxiety have occasional panic attacks, people with panic disorder experience these events more frequently and as their primary symptom. The attacks often severely affect a person’s quality of life and can lead to the debilitating fear of being in embarrassing situations, known as agoraphobia.
Social anxiety is another form of anxiety, where the symptoms stem from the fear of judgement from, or even just interaction with, other people. Individuals with social anxiety may avoid social or public situations where their fears could be realized. This form of anxiety usually begins as a child or a teenager and can persist if left untreated, severely affecting relationships.
Some studies highlight a moderate risk of inherited anxiety in children whose parents have generalized anxiety disorder, or had it as a child. One study, in particular, found a link between childhood separation anxiety and social phobia and an additional link in older children to major depressive disorder. Some scientists attribute this to the genetic tendency to inherit neuroticism, defined as persistent anxiety and negative feelings.
Since social media has become such a large part of modern society, it has also exerted a sizable influence over the social habits and mental health of many people. Some studies show a link between emotional distress and passive social media use, especially in adolescents. Other research has shown more of a mixed connection, with both positive and negative aspects contributing to a range of emotional states. Most agree, though, that the type of content consumed and real-world interpersonal relationships both have a bearing on findings.
Medications like antidepressants and beta-blockers are sometimes used to treat anxiety, in conjunction with counseling and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common method; this short-term form of therapy centers around a goal the client aims to achieve and uses problem-solving strategies to achieve this goal. Addressing the root cause of the condition and helping individuals learn to cope with stressors is often a central part of therapy for anxiety.
Certain types of anxiety are less “visible” than others, and anxiety disorder in general may be less noticeable than depression, psychotic disorders, or eating disorders. Some people with anxiety fear social or financial repercussions, like losing their jobs. Parents of children with anxiety may not have the funds to provide adequate medical care, or not know what exactly to do. And since there is a considerable stigma attached to all mental health conditions, many people are reluctant to admit their disorder.
In numerous societies around the world, mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness, and people with it may be considered unpredictable or abnormal. However, since education around anxiety and other mental health disorders has spread, the topic has become less taboo and the stigma is beginning to weaken. Anti-stigma programs between universities and communities also help to influence public perception of mental illness.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.