In this Article

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety is a normal part of life. But anxiety disorders are different from everyday worries. These disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also called social phobia

When to See a Doctor

Call your doctor if you:

  • Feel extremely worried or frightened all of a sudden for no apparent reason
  • Think you are having a panic attack
  • Worry so much about having panic attacks that you can’t handle daily activities (like going to work or visiting friends)
  • Have occasional shortness of breath and chest pain and are not sure of the cause.


Scientists believe that many factors may combine to cause anxiety disorders. Here are a few of the most likely:

  • Brain chemistry. Symptoms are often relieved by medicines that alter levels of chemicals in the brain.
  • Life experiences. Exposure to abuse, violence, or poverty may increase the likelihood of getting these illnesses.
  • Family history (genetics). Studies show that anxiety disorders run in families. Anxiety disorders can begin in childhood. If you are a parent, watch your children for symptoms so they can be treated early.
  • Learned behaviors and thinking patterns. People with low self-esteem and poor coping skills may be prone to anxiety disorders.

Diagnosis and Tests

Doctors use several different tools to learn about conditions and make a diagnosis:

  • Questionnaires. To check for anxiety and other mental health problems, your doctor may ask you to answer questions about your symptoms, stress, coping style, and support system.
  • Medical history. Your doctor asks about your past and present illnesses and your family history.
  • Physical exam. An exam helps your doctor know if your symptoms come from something other than an anxiety disorder.
  • Guidelines for diagnosis. Your doctor compares your information to standard medical definitions for mental health disorders.


  • Counseling. Also called psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” counseling can help you understand your problems and develop ways to work through them.
  • Medicine. Several different types of medicines are used. If one type isn’t working, remember that there are other options. Working with your doctor, you can find the best medicine and dosage for you.
  • Care Management. This team approach coordinates your mental health treatment with other healthcare needs. You and your family are important members of the team and take an active role in your care.


Although the cause of anxiety disorders is uncertain, there are steps you can take to reduce the impact of symptoms and prevent anxiety attacks. These steps include:

  • Asking your healthcare provider for help early
  • Learning to carefully manage your time and energy to reduce stress
  • Getting enough sleep and exercising regularly
  • Keeping a journal to understand what triggers your anxiety
  • Avoiding substances like alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and nicotine


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • Restlessness or feeling “on edge”
  • Fatigue and trouble concentrating
  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Trembling, sweating, and hot flashes
  • Feeling dizzy or out of breath
  • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Persistent, unwelcome thoughts (obsessions)
  • Urgent need to repeat certain ritual behaviors (compulsions)

Panic Disorder

  • Pounding heart, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, dizziness
  • Feeling unreal or disconnected
  • Fear of having a heart attack or “going crazy” (a panic attack)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Repeated and frightening thoughts and memories of the trauma
  • Depression
  • Feeling emotionally numb, especially toward people they were once close to.
  • Being irritable and perhaps more aggressive than normal.
  • Having trouble working or socializing (in severe cases)

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD, Also Called Social Phobia)

  • Overwhelming anxiety in everyday social situations
  • Intense fear of being judged by others or being embarrassed by their own actions
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends