Anxiety Disorders

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The exact causes of anxiety disorders are not fully understood, but they are likely to result from a combination of factors, including life experiences and inherited traits.

Medical Causes

In some cases, anxiety may be linked to an underlying medical issue. Medical problems that can be associated with anxiety include:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
  • Drug misuse or withdrawal
  • Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines), or other medications
  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones
  • Side effects of certain medications

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma: Children and adults who have experienced abuse, trauma, or witnessed traumatic events are at higher risk of developing anxiety disorders.
  • Stress due to an illness: Dealing with a serious health condition can cause significant worry and anxiety about treatment and the future.
  • Stress buildup: Accumulated stress from various life situations, big events, or ongoing worries can trigger excessive anxiety.
  • Personality: Certain personality types may be more prone to anxiety disorders.
  • Other mental health disorders: People with other mental health conditions, such as depression, are often at higher risk of anxiety disorders.
  • Family history: Anxiety disorders can run in families.
  • Drugs or alcohol: Substance misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.


Anxiety disorders can lead to or worsen other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression or other mental health disorders
  • Substance misuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Impaired functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors


While there is no guaranteed way to prevent anxiety disorders, you can take steps to reduce their impact:

  • Get help early: Seek assistance as soon as you recognize signs of anxiety. Early intervention can lead to better outcomes.
  • Stay active: Engage in activities you enjoy and maintain social interactions and caring relationships to reduce worries.
  • Avoid alcohol or drug use: Substance use can cause or worsen anxiety. If you have an addiction, seek professional help or join a support group.

Remember that seeking help and support is essential in managing anxiety disorders effectively.

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If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, it is essential to seek appropriate evaluation and diagnosis. You may start by seeing your primary care provider, who can check for any underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to your anxiety. However, for severe anxiety or if an anxiety disorder is suspected, it is recommended to see a mental health specialist.

Psychological Evaluation

A mental health provider will conduct a psychological evaluation, which involves discussing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to help pinpoint a diagnosis and check for related complications. This evaluation helps identify anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions that may coexist, such as depression or substance misuse.

DSM-5 Criteria

Many doctors use the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose anxiety disorders. This manual provides specific criteria for various anxiety disorders, helping mental health professionals make accurate diagnoses.

Treatment Options

Once diagnosed, anxiety disorders can be effectively treated through psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling, involves working with a therapist to reduce anxiety symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on teaching specific skills to improve symptoms and gradually return to activities that were avoided due to anxiety. Exposure therapy, a part of CBT, helps patients gradually face anxiety-triggering situations to build confidence in managing anxiety.


Medications are another treatment option, depending on the type of anxiety disorder and any coexisting mental or physical health issues. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications such as buspirone may be prescribed. In limited circumstances, short-term use of sedatives or beta blockers may be recommended to relieve anxiety symptoms.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

While psychotherapy and medications are essential for managing anxiety, lifestyle changes can complement treatment:

  • Stay physically active with regular exercise to reduce stress.
  • Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and caffeine, as they can worsen anxiety.
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga.
  • Make sleep a priority and get enough rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet, focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish.

Alternative Medicine

Some herbal remedies have been studied as potential treatments for anxiety, but more research is needed to understand their risks and benefits. Before using herbal or dietary supplements, consult your doctor to ensure they are safe and won’t interact with any medications you’re taking.

Coping and Support

To cope with anxiety disorders, consider these strategies:

  • Learn about your disorder, involve your family and friends, and seek support.
  • Stick to your treatment plan, including medication and therapy.
  • Take action and practice strategies to manage anxious feelings.
  • Keep a journal to identify stress triggers and coping strategies.
  • Join an anxiety support group to connect with others.
  • Learn time management techniques to reduce anxiety.
  • Engage in social activities and hobbies to combat isolation.
  • Break the anxiety cycle by redirecting your focus away from worries.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Your anxiety symptoms and their impact on your daily life.
  • Possible triggers and recent stressful events.
  • Family history of mental health problems.
  • Other health issues and medications you’re taking.
  • Questions to ask your doctor during the appointment.

Be proactive in discussing your concerns and experiences to receive the most appropriate evaluation and treatment.

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