Is Anxiety A Mental Illness?

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Maria Abada, LPC

Picture yourself walking out of your bedroom at night to get a drink of water. The house is dark and quiet. You’re sure that you are the only one awake at the time. As you get closer to the kitchen, you suddenly hear what sounds like a footstep behind you. You react immediately – you shout, jump, or freeze when you hear the noise.

When your body senses that you are in danger, it sends a message to your brain, triggering a fight-or-flight response. Imagine experiencing a constant sense of fear every day. That is what anxiety is. One of the most popular questions asked about anxiety is whether or not it is a mental health illness. It’s essential to understand what anxiety is to cope with it positively.

What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

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It is not uncommon to be worried from time to time about one thing or another. An upcoming exam, a big speech, or a presentation at work can make anyone nervous from time to time. Anxiety is a natural reaction to stressful situations. However, some people experience chronic anxiety. This constant anxiety can make it difficult for them to function normally in multiple domains of their life. These forms of anxiety are called anxiety disorders.

Usually, people with anxiety disorders experience intense fear or level of anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation. In other words, people who deal with stress have to deal with emotions that are more intense than the situation that triggers them. Another factor which is a marked feature of anxiety is the inability to maintain healthy lifestyles as a result of this anxiety. When occasional worry turns into constant fear and apprehension, it may signal the presence of an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety, and knowing the differences can help you decide if it is necessary to seek help.

Separation Anxiety And Related Anxiety Disorders In Children

Children can also suffer from separation anxiety and other related anxiety disorders. Separation anxiety is characterized by:

  • Intense fear of abandonment and separation anxiety
  • Worry that a sudden event will separate them from their parents
  • Inability to go to sleep due to worry or fear of being alone
  • Becoming ill when they are separated from their caregiver

Separation anxiety can result from a number of factors, such as moving into a new house, living under an over-protective parent, or dealing with a traumatic event.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Constant worry and anxiety over any number of issues with no specific triggers are significant symptoms of a general anxiety disorder (GAD). Most people who deal with this anxiety disorder experience a general state of constant worry and anxiety over an extended period, which usually spans about six months. GAD is often highly disruptive in the lives of the people who have to deal with it. The most distinct feature of GAD is that there may be no specific situations that trigger feelings of anxiety or intense fear.

In most cases, individuals with GAD also report a number of physical symptoms that accompany their anxious feelings. Some of the symptoms include but are not limited to muscle tension, feelings of restlessness, insomnia or irregular sleep patterns, and cognitive issues.

Panic Disorder

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Another type of disorder that people with anxiety may have is Panic Disorder. This form of anxiety disorder is characterized by repeated and usually unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is triggered by intense feelings of fear which trigger intense physical reactions. Some of the symptoms experienced during a panic attack include trembling, profuse sweating, heart palpitations, and a sense of dread and impending doom. Panic attacks further complicate the issues of anxiety since these panic attacks cannot be predicted. Always being worried about having a panic attack by someone who already has anxiety worsens the already existing condition. Panic disorders are incredibly disruptive to the lives of those who have to deal with them.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety is another type of disorder people with anxiety can suffer from. Unlike the two types of stress earlier discussed, social situations specifically trigger this particular anxiety. This condition is characterized by a constant paralyzing fear of being watched and judged by people. Social interactions are complicated for these individuals, and this can limit the quality of their lives. Some of the symptoms of social anxiety include sweating, heart palpitations, and tightness in the chest. Many people can experience social anxiety at one point; however, if the anxiety is chronic, intense, and poses a detriment to the quality of one’s social life, a social anxiety disorder may be present.

Specific Phobias

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Another type of anxiety that is common is specific phobias. Phobias are simple fears which have been exaggerated by the mind so much that they have become phobias. An incredible sense of intense fear is attached to these phobias, which may often lead to recurrent panic attacks triggered by these phobias. The symptoms of phobias are much similar to those of other forms of anxiety disorders: profuse sweating, muscle tension, dizziness, and in some cases, heart palpitations are common symptoms here. The inability, for example, to function in an area with dogs, is an example of phobia. What usually happens is that the mind immediately projects a worst-case scenario upon the sight of the triggering fear. The worst-case scenario projected by the brain triggers a fight or flight emotions, which are the equivalent of panic. The result of this process is a severe physical reaction to the sight of a dog. Specific phobias fall under the classification of anxiety disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Anxiety

People with anxiety disorders or social phobia often have numerous questions when it comes to diagnosing and treating themselves. Check out the most frequently asked questions people with anxiety inquire about.

What are the 5 types of anxiety disorders? The five types of anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, Panic Disorder, and Separation Anxiety Disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder used to be considered anxiety disorders. They are currently grouped in their own categories, but both disorders can be presented alongside anxiety symptoms.

Can I self-diagnose myself with anxiety? The only way to receive an official diagnosis for anxiety disorder is by undergoing an evaluation with a mental health professional. If you believe that you may be suffering from anxiety, contact your primary care physician for an initial examination as well as recommendations for mental health counselors.

What are the most common mental and physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder? Some of the most common mental symptoms of an anxiety disorder include excessive worrying, agitation, restlessness, and irritability. Intense fear of social situations where one might be placed in the spotlight is another common symptom of an anxiety disorder. Physical symptoms of anxiety include shortness of breath, nausea, and an upset stomach.

What causes anxiety disorders to develop? A complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental triggers, can cause someone to develop anxiety. People with direct relatives who suffer from anxiety have a higher chance of also developing it. Experiencing traumas can also increase one’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

How do I know if I have a stress disorder or social phobia? If you are experiencing mental or physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder, you should schedule an appointment with your physician immediately. You can only know for sure whether or not you have an anxiety disorder by undergoing an exam by your doctor.

Can anxiety be cured? There are numerous ways that you can treat your anxiety. Mental health counseling and medication are the most common and effective methods for treating anxiety.

How do I get rid of anxiety without medication? Enrolling in mental health counseling and adopting healthy lifestyle changes can help you get rid of anxiety without using medication. Behavioral counseling can teach you how to identify negative thoughts and successfully address them. Exercising regularly and eating healthy can also help you improve your mood and focus.

What causes separation anxiety in children? Separation anxiety can be caused by several factors, such as stress or trauma. Separation anxiety can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Treatment Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a feeling that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, for some individuals, anxious feelings may be chronic and intense. If left untreated, this type of anxiety can take a toll on one’s quality of life. Dealing with anxiety disorders can sometimes be tricky. Being able to recognize the point at which the anxiety warrants a mental health professional’s attention is difficult for some people. In most cases, it is advisable to seek professional help immediately when symptoms become disruptive to a healthy life. As soon as your anxiety begins to affect your regular quality of life, it may be time to seek help from a mental health specialist.

There are many effective treatments available for people who struggle with anxiety disorder. Treatment can include psychotherapy, medication, self-help, or some combination of these modalities. The treatment approach should be tailored to the individual’s needs, which is why the guidance of a qualified help professional is important. Most treatment options last for about 8 to 12 weeks and require constant supervision to monitor their effectiveness.

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Only licensed and experienced professionals should be consulted when seeking treatment. Fortunately, there are several very easily accessible options. BetterHelp has qualified professionals who have experience with anxiety disorders. All BetterHelp providers are highly trained and easily accessible. Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of your quality of life. Sign up today to get the help you need and deserve.


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