Most people experience feelings of anxiety before an important event, such as a big exam, business presentation or first date. Anxiety disorders, however, are illnesses that cause people to feel frightened, distressed and uneasy for no apparent reason. Left untreated, these disorders can dramatically reduce productivity and significantly diminish an individual's quality of life.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in America with more than 40 million people affected by these debilitating illnesses every year.

Different kinds of anxiety disorders

  • Panic disorder - Characterized by panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality or like you're "losing your mind", and fear of dying.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) - Repeated, intrusive and unwanted thoughts that seem to only go away by performing rituals repeatedly.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as war, rape, child abuse, natural disasters, or being taken hostage. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, feeling angry, irritable, distracted and being easily startled are common.
  • Phobias - Extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger, the fear of which can lead to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities, last at least six months; almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it. This is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, trembling, muscle tension and headache.

You have anxiety, now what?

Treatments have been largely developed through research conducted by research institutions that are extremely effective and often combine medication with psychotherapy. Many different kinds of medications are available to help and are most effective when taken in conjunction with some form of talk-therapy. No one medication or form of talk therapy is right for everyone, so find what works for you. If you aren't satisfied with your treatment, find someone else.

Note: This information is not designed to diagnose anyone with an anxiety disorder. Only a professional can provide a diagnosis. If you believe that you or someone you know may have anxiety, contact a professional for a diagnosis. Contact Jamie Elis' Young at jyoung@mhand.org if you need help finding a provider in your area.