Anxiety is a natural part of life and, at normal levels, helps us to function at our best. For people with anxiety disorders, anxiety is overwhelming and hard to control. Anxiety disorders develop out of a blend of biological (genetic) and psychological factors that, when combined with stress, may lead to the development of impairment. Primary anxiety-related diagnoses include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety can be defined as a negative mood state that is accompanied by bodily symptoms such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, a sense of unease, and apprehension about the future (APA, 2013; Barlow, 2002).
While many individuals experience some levels of worry throughout the day, individuals with anxiety disorders experience symptoms of a greater intensity and for longer periods of times than the average person. Additionally, they are often unable to control their worry, tension, and/or predictive dread through various coping strategies, which directly interferes with their ability to engage in daily social and occupational tasks.
Characteristic symptoms of anxiety:
- Negative mood state characterized by unease, worry, tension, and/or dread.
- Frequent doubts regarding self-worth and/or ability to handle problems.
- Future-based, “predicative” fears for events.
- Difficulty with cognitive rumination, racing thoughts, and inability to calm the mind.
- Physiological cues (racing heart, sweat, bodily tension, among others) often accompanying cognitive symptoms, resulting in changing sleep/eating patterns.
Anxiety disorders often occur along with other mental disorders, in particular depression, which may occur in as many as 60% of people with anxiety disorders. The fact that there is considerable overlap between symptoms of anxiety and depression and that the same environmental triggers can provoke symptoms in either condition. These factors may help to explain this high rate of comorbidity.
About 12% of people are affected by an anxiety disorder in a given year, and between 5% and 30% are affected at some point in their life. They occur about twice as often in females as males and generally begin before the age of 25. The most common are specific phobia which affects nearly 12% and social anxiety disorder which affects 10% of individuals at some point in their life. Rates of anxiety appear to be higher in the United States and Europe than other parts of the world.